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American Geological Institute

2001 AGI Geoscience Associate's Conference

Breakout Group #1 Report


            The group felt that employer expectations (i.e., the petroleum, mining, hydrogeologic, environmental, engineering industries, and governmental institutions) had been clearly and uniformly articulated in the various presentations made the previous day.  There appears to widespread agreement that field experiences are highly valued and a critical part of a geoscientist's training.  They provide a unique and integrated "learn-how-to-learn" experience that cannot be duplicated in the classroom or laboratory.  The expectations are that field experiences will emphasize:

  • the fundamentals and basics of geology
  • critical thinking skills
  • hypothesis testing (i.e., the development and analysis of multiple working hypotheses)
  • the concept of uncertainty in the analysis & interpretation of geologic data (i.e., the recognition of multiple possible realizations based on disparate data)
  • the appreciation of scale (grains to plates)
  • 4-dimensional reasoning
  • recognition of the "footprint" of various geological phenomena (i.e., illustration and analysis of  the visible record in order that students will have knowledge applicable to the interpretation of remotely sensed data of  various types)
  • development of observational, data collection, analysis, and interpretation skills


            The great diversity of the geosciences and the range of potential career opportunities means that it is probably impossible for any institution to cover every potentially valuable type of field experience during a single student's education.  Consider the following, incomplete list of specific topics that would be of benefit:

  • the analysis of facies, stratigraphic architecture, and geologic structures at the scale of reservoirs to exploration trends (petroleum)
  • the analysis of petrographic relations, mineralization, faults, folds, and veins at the scale of a mining prospect
  • the collection of field data relative to surface and groundwater hydrochemistry, surface and groundwater hydrogeology, and surficial geology
  • the analysis of soils, glacial terrains, and the coastal zone
  • various geophysical methods to characterize both the deep and shallow subsurface

The group thus makes the following recommendation:

Recommendation #1: Academic institutions should strive to provide diverse field experiences, including traditional mapping experiences, as well as including material applicable to societal issues and the diverse career opportunities available today.  The emphasis in all such experiences should be on critical thinking, hypothesis testing, and spatial relations.


            The group concluded that there is no single model that can be applied to the question of how to deliver field experiences to students.  This reality is dictated by the broad range of potential subject matter, the varying expertise of faculty, the potentially difficult economic issues of running traditional field camps, the changing demographics of student populations (i.e., the non-traditional student), and the diversity of educational institutions (public vs. private; big vs. little; comprehensive vs. teaching-only).  How field experiences are delivered will thus vary from institution to institution. 

In the past, a six-week summer field camp plus various types of field trips in association with a department's curriculum was a widely held "standard" that most employers could reasonably assume was being met.  The fact that many employers in diverse fields feel students are lacking in sufficient field experiences suggests that this "standard" no longer has much meaning.  Thus the group makes the following recommendation:

Recommendation #2: The profession be asked to establish a goal of specific number of days of field experience for the BS/BA degree.  The emphasis in all such experiences should be on problem solving, not show & tell trips.

This recommendation is more specific than using credit hours or courses, as such standards can vary from institution to institution.  The exact number of days should be more widely debated. Some members of the group favored up to 70 days whereas most of those actually in academia felt 50 would be a more realistic number (excluding days spent by those students doing field work as part of an internship or a student research project). A preliminary value of  ±60 days was derived (as best as I can recall) using the following formula:

  • 6 weeks of field camp at 6 days/week = 36 days
  • two additional short-term, course-independent field trips during one's Junior and Senior years of at least 4-days each = 8 days
  • field exercises associated with specific classes in a department's majors-track curriculum = 16 days

In order to deal with the issues of changing demographics, inadequate enrollments, staffing, etc., the group also makes the following recommendation:

Recommendation #3: If necessary, institutions consider more creative, cost-effective, and enrollment-optimizing models for delivering field experiences.

Relative to this recommendation, the group specifically felt that the traditional 6-week summer field camp in the Rocky Mountain region may no longer be feasible for many schools, but that should not be a reason to diminish the field experience in a student's education.  Alternative models might include:

  • The establishment of consortium to deliver intense summer field experiences.  Such consortia are apparently already being developed in Kentucky, North Carolina, and Wisconsin (and perhaps elsewhere).  These initial efforts emphasize a statewide approach (e.g., all public institutions within a state), but may also be possible within other traditional alliances (e.g., athletic conferences). The advantages are more students in the potential enrollment pool, more faculty in the potential instructor pool, and the sharing of resources.  In addition, the greater number of faculty in the potential instructor pool can potentially diversify the type of field experiences offered.  Leadership in creating such alliances need not come from academia; state geological surveys may be in a unique position to provide the impetus for such efforts, especially in states where different institutions are governed by different governing boards.
  • The implementation of a modular approach to delivering field geology.  Some schools are already experimenting with this concept (Univ. of Colorado-Boulder; Univ. of New Orleans, and perhaps others), and at least one statewide consortium (Kentucky) is also implementing this approach.  One to two credit courses of one to two week duration are offered with the requirement that students must take three or more to satisfy the traditional field camp requirement.  Advantages of such an approach include: (1) one module could be made a sophomore-level course so as to introduce an intense field experience early into the curriculum; (2) modules can be offered during the regular academic year or over breaks, thus eliminating the problem of lost summer income, additional summer tuition, and long-term child care for some students; (3) a group of modules can be linked into a traditional summer field camp, but financially hard-pressed students could take but one or two per summer over a two to three year period; (4) a greater diversity of a schools' faculty can be incorporated into a broad modular program; (5) a greater diversity of field experiences can be offered and the students can select those which are most applicable to their career aspirations; and (6) non-majors, and especially environmental science majors can be included in the courses since the prerequisites are more narrowly focused (i.e., a 1 to 2-week hydrogeology field module need not require igneous petrology).  The most notable shortcoming of a modular approach is the loss of the total immersion experience.  This though may be offset by the fact that a little field geology DONE WELL throughout the curriculum may as lasting an impression as a lot done once. 
  • Enhancement of the non-field camp experience within each department's culture.  Independent of field courses and field exercises associated with majors-track courses, the group recommends that all departments reassess the opportunities they provide for general field trips.  Many institutions would be well served if they found the means and will to reassert the value of such trips in their department's culture.


            The group also considered the issue of how new technologies can and should be integrated into the field experience.  Examples include the use of GPS, GIS, laptop computers, electronic total stations, data loggers, etc.  The value of such technologies in collecting field data and solving field problems is indisputable; the issue is when should such technology be introduced.  The group as a whole agreed that early introduction runs the risk of having the technology obscure 4D reasoning and general problem solving skills.  That is, learning the technology rather than experiencing the geology becomes the goal in the student's mind.  The group also felt that many of these technologies could be learned and/or demonstrated on and near campus; they often do not require travel to excellent exposures, which is a requirement for some field experiences.  Thus the group makes the following recommendation:

Recommendation #4: In most situations, currently available (and affordable) high tech "tool kits" should be used as a late-stage enhancement to the development of students' field skills.  That is, the fundamentals should be learned first; then the latest technological means to solve a field problem can be introduced.  Further, discrimination should be made as to what technologies can be implemented on or near campus versus distant sites. 


            Although not part of the group's original charge, there was unanimous consensus that with employer expectations comes responsibilities and opportunities.  Specifically, employers can impact the development and enhancement of field programs if they offer to become a more supportive participant or "shareholder" in the processes.  Examples of such responsibilities and/or opportunities might include:

  • Endowments to help underwrite field programs or scholarships
  • Release time for employees to serve as instructors in field courses
  • Providing data so that field instructors can augment what is seen in the field with examples of similar features that occur in the subsurface (e.g., seismic lines over certain structures or illustrating specific stratal architectures).
  • Promoting the continual addition of field experiences through continuing education and field trip opportunities made available through professional societies.

Accordingly, the following recommendation1 is made:

Recommendation #5: Professional societies, and in particular those that represent specific employment fields (i.e., AAPG, SEG, AIPG, etc) be asked to establish programs that improve the linkage between academic institutions and employers, with the goal of creating strategic alliances and open data bases that can enhance the traditional field experience.


1 this last recommendation was added by Budd in order to create a specific action item corresponding to the ideas reached by the group regarding employer responsibilities



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