Professor Cara Santelli in lab with student
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University of Minnesota BioTechnology Institute

University of Minnesota approves new major in environmental geosciences

New major will fill educational gap and meet growing workforce needs

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (02/11/2019) — The University of Minnesota Department of Earth Sciences announced that it will offer a new major in environmental geosciences that will meet a growing workforce need for more geoscientists who study the human impact on our environment. The new major, which will begin fall 2019, was approved by the University of Minnesota Board of Regents at their February meeting.

“While there are several academic programs at the University that focus on the environment, there are currently no programs that look at the specific role humans play within our geologic environment,” said Department of Earth Sciences Associate Professor Joshua Feinberg, who serves as the department’s director of undergraduate studies. “This area of study is especially relevant in important environmental issues that are facing our state and nation such as clean groundwater, natural resource availability, soils, and metals mining.”

Feinberg said the new major will meet the needs of a growing workforce in environmental geosciences. According to the American Geosciences Institute, the majority of current geoscientists in the workforce are within 15 years of retirement age. In addition, the number of geosciences jobs in the United States is expected to grow by about 135,000 jobs by the year 2022.

“We continue to hear from employers locally and nationally that there are more jobs in these environmental geosciences fields than there are graduates,” Feinberg said. “We’re hoping this major can better meet the employers’ needs.”

Graduates of the new environmental geosciences program will likely work in environmental consulting firms; federal and state agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Department of Natural Resources; watershed districts; and nonprofit agencies such as the Freshwater Society.

Courses in the new major will be taught by existing Department of Earth Sciences faculty in new facilities in the renovated Tate Hall. Like its current Earth Sciences major, the Department of Earth Sciences will offer both Bachelor of Science (B.S.) and Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree programs in environmental geosciences. The B.S. degree will be awarded by the University’s College of Science and Engineering, and the B.A. degree will be awarded by the University’s College of Liberal Arts. The B.S. degree will require an additional calculus course and a solid Earth dynamics course. The B.A. degree will require an introductory Earth Sciences course and additional liberal arts requirements, including a foreign language.

In addition to courses taught in the classroom or lab, both the B.S. and B.A. programs in environmental geosciences will require students to complete two field work courses during the summer of their sophomore or junior year. In these intensive 3 ½-week field courses, students put classwork into practice. Students travel to locations across Minnesota and the United States to learn things like how to make geological maps and how water moves underground.

“Our communities are growing faster than ever. We all need clean drinking water and materials for our modern lives, but we want to leave behind a healthy environment for our kids,” Feinberg said. “All of these issues require an understanding of our geological environment. This new major in environmental geosciences will provide the leading professionals in all of these areas for years to come.”