Wooster Launches New Major in Environmental Geoscience

Focus is on "the critical zone" where life intersects with Earth

29 March, 2018 by John Hopkins

WOOSTER, Ohio – The College of Wooster is launching a new major in environmental geoscience this fall, for students whose research interests and career aspirations center on the science of climate, water resources, soil quality, and related concerns.

“The focus is on the physical environment, and in particular on the processes that happen on the Earth’s surface, in the critical zone where living organisms, air, water, rock, and soil meet,” said Meagen Pollock, associate professor of geology and chair of the Department of Earth Sciences. “Environmental geoscience looks at how the physical environment interacts with humankind, and how the Earth works as a system.”

Environmental geoscientists are employed in fields ranging from nonprofit and government to industry and research. Students who major in environmental geoscience frequently go on to work as climate scientists for governmental agencies or hydrologists for environmental consulting firms. They understand how to analyze soil quality and stream health to prevent and clean up contamination.

By the time students begin enrolling in courses for the new major this fall, the department’s main computer lab will have undergone an extensive renovation that will expand their ability to access and use remote sensing, including satellite data and images from NASA, NOAA, and other sources, in order to study and better understand the forces at play in climate change. The satellite data also will be used in other environmental applications, like studying urban growth and planning, and interpreting vegetation patterns.

The new major complements the department’s existing geology major, whose focus is more on the complete Earth, including Earth’s deep interior and evolution. Countless Wooster geology majors have gone on to work in the energy industry, or as geotechnical engineers, paleontologists, or researchers studying natural hazards like volcanoes and earthquakes.

Like all Wooster students, environmental geoscience majors will have multiple opportunities to conduct significant research, working closely with a faculty mentor, during their four years at Wooster, culminating in a yearlong senior project.

“Our department has a rich tradition of team-based undergraduate research involving students from first-years to seniors,” Pollock said. “Our discipline is highly integrative and applied, and many of our majors participate in extended field and lab experiences in the summer. These summer experiences often form the basis of the senior research projects, and several of our students have already conducted research with an environmental focus. Recent environmental research projects have focused on the dispersal of PCBs in San Francisco Bay, the sustainability of groundwater pumping at a wildlife refuge, and the effects of thawing permafrost on global climate.”

The College of Wooster is America’s premier college for mentored undergraduate research. Wooster offers an excellent, comprehensive liberal arts education, culminating in a rigorous senior project, in which each student works one-on-one with a faculty mentor to conceive, organize and complete a significant research project on a topic of the student’s own choosing. Through this distinctive program, every Wooster student develops abilities valued by employers and graduate schools alike: independent judgment, analytical ability, creativity, project-management and time-management skills, and strong written and oral communication skills. Founded in 1866, the college enrolls approximately 2,000 students.