A Durable Collaborative Partnership with Our Community's Geoscience Employers

Jeffrey Ryan
University of South Florida
Jeffrey Ryan, University of South Florida
Author Profile
published Apr 11, 2017 11:00am
This year marks the 20th "anniversary" for a unique and mutually fruitful partnership between the environmental employer community in SW Florida and the (now) School of Geosciences at the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL. I put "anniversary" in quotes because cooperation between the USF Geology faculty and local employers was certainly occurring before this year. What happened in 1997 was the formal establishment of the USF Geology Alumni Society, which has since become both mechanism for regular contact between Geoscience faculty and local employers, some (not all!) of whom are USF Geology alumni; and an active partner to our Geology program, in the delivery of key pieces of both our graduate and undergraduate degree curricula.

Our regional employers, often through our Alumni Society, are intimately involved in our Professional Science Masters (PSM) degree program in Geology. The gateway course to this program "Introduction to Professional Geology" is taught jointly by a past Geology Alumni Society leader and one of our regular faculty and involves up to a dozen local employers as presenters/panelists and "customers" for geoscience business projects students are tasked with designing and marketing. The capstone Internship experience of this program involves working under the supervision of a Licensed Professional Geologist (or Federal employee equivalent) on a real-world environmental geoscience investigation, and the results of these student investigations are presented each semester at an Internship Symposium hosted by the local Water Management District. Our MS program has a Professional Advisory Committee comprising a spectrum of our regional employers. The committee was instrumental in the initial development of this program and its approval as a PSM, and it has been active in its review and a current effort to revise and update it.

At the undergraduate level, our employers have been central players (as presenters and co-instructors) in a new 2000-level course "Preparing for a Career in the Geosciences" that we've added to our Bachelors degree programs. As well, through our Alumni Society, our employer partners offer a range of professional development and networking opportunities for our undergraduates, from social events ("Rockbreaker" receptions each semester) to workshops (on resume writing and career opportunities) to panel discussions (on professional licensing, and related topics) and even live demonstrations (the "USF GeoExpo" event, where local firms drill wells, conduct geophysical surveys and sampling etc. at an on-campus "geo-park" the School of Geosciences maintains). These activities are in addition to more traditional alumni-organization activities and fundraising efforts, which have included creating scholarship funds for graduate students and to cover field-camp expenses, and a new effort to establish a USF Field Station.

Our employer partners' expressed motivations for their level of involvement with our students and programs is that they want a say in the education of those they see as their future employees. However, it's also been true that we as a Geology faculty have worked to make sure they GOT that say, by helping knock down administrative obstacles to their involvement in our courses, and actively reaching out to get their input and feedback on our programs. A lot of that work was done by a few "heroes" in our Department, who made time in their professional lives to network with and forge connections to local environmental firms and regional regulatory offices. The work of these heroes was facilitated by a series of Department Chairs who saw the value in these connections, and invested to support them, in terms of faculty assigned time, funds to support events, and other means.

Important to maintaining our employer partnership has been clear communication about how things work in the context of a large State-funded University (e.g., the time it takes to get a program or course approved, or an on-campus demonstration event cleared to go forward, is entirely alien to environmental consultants or regulators). It is also important to not ask for that which is not, or cannot be given (i.e., some firms will host interns, some can't; some are happy for their employees to help out in a class or run a workshop, while others are not, but they might instead be able to provide access to equipment or a field site or something else), and (obviously!) to express sincere gratitude for what they do give to your department and students.

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