The Department of Geological Sciences at Indiana University is in the process of changing its name to the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. If approved, the name change will coincide with a curriculum change in time for the fall 2017 semester. The changes are an attempt to better reflect the breadth of courses offered in the department, as well as the career opportunities available after graduation.
"The trend on campus is well known," said Kaj Johnson, the department’s Director of Undergraduate Studies. "At professional schools like Kelley and SPEA, enrollment is going up, and at the College, enrollment is going down."
For nearly a decade, units within IU, such as the Kelley School of Business and the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, have seen their share of undergraduate student credit hours increase, while units such as the College of Arts and Sciences have seen their share decrease. The university looks at shares of undergraduate student credit hours to help determine budgets for each unit. IU-Bloomington Provost Lauren Robel has called the shift an echo of the Great Recession. Since the economic downturn, students have gravitated to majors that offer a more defined career path.
Johnson said the proposed departmental changes are a response to that, as well as to another trend. "There has been a decade-long trend toward broadening the scope of how people view traditional geology," he said. Geology has typically been associated with things such as mining, petroleum, rocks and minerals. Johnson said that’s part of what the department does, but it also includes things such as climate change, water resources and all of the Earth’s systems. Faculty members have been talking about a name change for some time, but the recent hiring of two new atmospheric scientists helped push things forward. The department voted to change its name at the beginning of the academic year. Larry Singell, executive dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, has approved the name change, Johnson said. It must now be approved by the Office of the Provost. If that happens, it will go before the IU Board of Trustees.
The curriculum change is under review by a committee for undergraduate education, but, if approved, it would create three new introductory courses. One would focus on Earth materials, which is similar to the mineral and petrology courses already being offered. Another would cover Earth’s processes, such as plate tectonics. The third would examine the history of Earth’s climate. Then, at the junior and senior level, students would have more options for pursuing specific areas of interest, a departure from the more rigid curriculum in place now. The goal is for the new introductory courses to give students a better idea of the type of science being done in the department and a better sense of career options. For example, students focused on atmospheric science could pursue a career in meteorology at a number of state agencies, or even television news stations. IU is not alone in this trend. Johnson estimated about half of the geology departments at universities in the U.S. have now incorporated the words Earth or earth science into their official names. He acknowledged there are some hard-liners in the field resistant to these changes, but said there is no internal battle at IU. "It’s a recognition of trends and where funding is now," he said. "It’s generally accepted that’s the way things are going."