A New Minor, Major Tracks, and Master's Program

Students on the side of the road on a field trip to the Pebble Bluff outcrop.Written by Lauren Neitzke Adamo

When the department changed its name from Geological Sciences to Earth and Planetary Sciences (EPS) in 2013, it officially acknowledged an ongoing change within the department. With the addition of new faculty and researchers, especially in the field of planetary sciences, the research focus of the department had expanded far beyond the traditional geologic topics. Simultaneously, the interests and needs of the student population began to change, calling for a much-needed update to the undergraduate and graduate curriculum. The result was the creation of a new Undergraduate Minor in Astrobiology and a Master’s program in Environmental Geosciences, as well as three new tracks within the undergraduate major.

The Environmental Geosciences Master’s of Science program, launched in 2015, was designed to prepare students seeking employment in the environmental industry, Non-Governmental Organizations, and state/federal governments. These employers have expressed a preference for hiring graduates with a solid training in geological sciences but with additional training in applying geologic knowledge to solving environmental problems. The core curriculum of this M.S. program includes shallow geophysics, environmental geochemistry, hydrogeology, and data skills such as environmental modeling and Geographic Information System mapping. Students are required to complete an internship project and present a capstone paper under the advisement of three faculty members. The program allows students to enter the workforce quickly, as all coursework can be completed in 1.5 years. Alternatively, students can completeIMG 1807 copy the program in about three years while also working full-time.

In 2018, the NASA Astrobiology Institute awarded EPS Professors Paul Falkowski and Nathan Yee a research and education grant to study the origin of proteins and the co-evolution of the geosphere and biosphere. As a part of this NASA project, Prof. Yee created a new undergraduate course that would focus on Astrobiology, the field of study devoted to the investigation of the origin and evolution of life on Earth and the exploration of possible life outside of Earth. The School of Arts and Sciences officially approved Astrobiology as an undergraduate major in 2020, and in the Fall of 2020, students began to enroll in this program and engage in coursework aimed at understanding the origins of life in the universe. The Astrobiology curriculum is exciting and provides a cross-disciplinary education in Earth and Planetary Sciences, Astronomy, and Biology. At commencement this year, Qifeng He (History Major, Class of 2022) will be the first Rutgers student to graduate with a minor in Astrobiology!

In the Fall of 2019, three new undergraduate major tracks were added to the geoscience curriculum. The well-established geological sciences course of study, centered around the traditional sedimentology, stratigraphy, structural geology, mineralogy, and petrology courses remains. The new planetary and environmental science major tracks include many of the foundational geology courses, but also include supplemental content in the areas of chemistry, astrophysics, and environmental science. A fourth general geological sciences track awards undergraduates with a DSC02447Bachelor of Arts degree and is designed for students wishing to enter non-science fields after graduation, such as education, journalism, and law.

 These curriculum updates have been successful thus far, with increasing numbers of students choosing to enroll in these programs each year. The EPS department is proud to present these new options because it allows our instructors to teach traditional and emerging geologic methods, while also better preparing our students for a variety of career options.