Geosciences To Be New CLAS Department

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The UConn Board of Trustees has approved the creation of a new department in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The Department of Geosciences gives a modern edge to an age-old discipline, bringing research and education about the Earth and its atmosphere to UConn undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty.

It’s a good time to be a geoscience major. There are forecasts that geoscientists will be in demand in the next 10 years. &#8212 Lisa Park Boush

The move, effective July 1, will position the department to “immediately raise the reputation of UConn for their vision in expanding a STEM field, offering research and preparation for societal needs,” according to an external program review in April 2018.

“A cornerstone of any land-grant university is a rigorous program in the Earth sciences,” says Craig Kennedy, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “This new Department of Geosciences will build on UConn’s legacy of excellence in this field, making the Department a leader among its peers.”

Geosciences faculty conduct research on and teach courses related to water, energy, climate change, natural resources, oceans and coasts, mountain building, mass extinction, landscape change, and life at the extremes of the Earth and beyond.

Incoming department head Lisa Park Boush says these areas of expertise are not only building blocks for successful careers, but essential for economic development and responsible policy making.

“Geosciences is a fast-growing field, and UConn’s expertise in this area is growing faster still,” says Davita Silfen Glasberg, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “The Department of Geosciences will serve our students and researchers with new opportunities in Storrs and around the world.”

More than 1,000 undergraduate students enroll in introductory geoscience courses annually, and more than 50 students are currently majoring in geosciences. The program’s curriculum underwent a redesign in recent years, creating several pathways to the major that emphasize general geology, Earth and life history through deep time, geologic hazards, and the evolution of the American landscape.

The department will continue to offer the program’s popular education abroad programs in Taiwan, the Bahamas, the western U.S., and Italy. These programs, offered during the semester, during intersession, and during the summer, give undergraduate and graduate students hand-on experience in field geology.

The program has operated as the Center for Integrative Geosciences since 2004. Park Boush says the growing prominence of the Center created momentum for the change.

“Our increasingly successful bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs, state-of-the-art laboratories, and internationally recognized faculty have given us an excellent reputation,” notes Park Boush, who served as director of the Center for Integrative Geosciences since 2014.

Undergraduate alumni of the program have a greater than 95 percent placement rate in geoscience-related jobs, including environmental geology, hydrology, public policy, city planning, and mining and petroleum careers, she says. Graduate alumni work in academia, in related industries, or federal and state government jobs.

“It’s a good time to be a geoscience major,” she adds. “There are forecasts that geoscientists will be in demand in the next 10 years.”

The department’s research portfolio centers around three areas in modern geoscience:

Several faculty study Earth surface processes, such as climate change and geomicrobiology, which is the study of microscopic life that aids the in the creation of minerals. Plate tectonics and mountain building are a second focus, with an important emphasis on how and when earthquakes occur. Finally, a group of faculty study landscape evolution, such as erosion, hydrology, and coastal environments.

The department’s formation is expected to increase the program’s prominence and eligibility for federal funding, which will help its faculty earn research funding from national agencies.

The 14 faculty members affiliated with the program have received a collective $14.3 million in external research funding since 2009, including two NSF Early Career (CAREER) Awards — to assistant professor Michal Hren and associate professor Will Ouimet; and a National Science Foundation grant of more than $700,000 to assistant professor Julie Fosdick to establish a regional geochronology facility.

Park Boush says this outcome has been the result of four years of hard work by geosciences faculty.

“Our main goal is to build as strong a program as we possibly can,” she says.  “I am really excited to unleash our potential as a department. It’s a new day for geosciences at UConn.”