Earth Science curricula have traditionally been defined around a limited set of core courses thought to be integral to the science (e.g., mineralogy, petrology, sedimentology, structural geology, etc.). Students typically amend a core sequence of required courses with a variety of more specialized elective courses (e.g., hydrogeology, glaciology, geobiology, etc.).

Core Competencies

We have developed an alternative to the "core course" approach which might be described as a "core competencies" approach. We instituted this alternative approach to the Department's curriculum design in 2009 and published an assessment of it in 2014 (Design and Assessment of a Skills-Based Geoscience Curriculum, Journal of Geoscience Education 62:668-678).
In our revised curriculum, instead of defining our curricula as a list of specific courses, we instead define multiple sets of key concepts or skills we want our students to master (see below). These sets of core competencies reflect, in part, the on-going effort within the Earth Science community to define the core ideas and supporting concepts that constitute what everyone should know about Earth Sciences

Introductory Courses (EARS 1-9)

The key concepts and skills that we expect to be common to all our courses at the Introductory level include:

  • Earth's origins
  • Concepts of geologic time and spatial scales
  • The use of maps and spatial data
  • The process of science and the evolution of scientific concepts
  • Earth as a dynamic system including physical, chemical, and biological interactions
  • The impact of geology and natural resources on the evolution of life and vice versa
  • The concept of uncertainty as it applies to our understanding and analysis of Earth processes, resources, and hazards.

Collection and Analysis of Earth Science Data (EARS 11-19)

Specific skills and concepts covered in these courses include:

  • Collection and interpretation of Earth Science data
  • Collection of field observations
  • Quantifying uncertainty
  • Creation of cross sections and maps, and plotting spatial data

Core Methods and Concepts (EARS 30-59)

Specific skills and concepts covered in these courses include:

  • Origin of Earth materials
  • Mineral transformations
  • Structure and mechanics of Earth materials
  • Co-evolution of Earth and life
  • Core field methods
  • Collaborative research

Quantitative Analysis of Earth Systems (EARS 60-69)

Specific skills and concepts covered in these courses include:

  • Simplification/modeling of complex systems for quantitative analysis
  • Quantitative analysis of Earth systems
  • Limits of data/knowledge

Advanced Topics (EARS 70-79)

Specific skills and concepts covered in these courses include:

  • In depth exploration of a specialized topic at an advanced level
  • Reading the scientific literature
  • Scientific discourse (oral and written presentation of data and analyses)


All Earth Sciences and Environmental Earth Sciences majors must also complete a culminating experience their senior year. There are several options:

  • Completion of a Senior Honors Thesis (EARS 89 and 90). 
    • A thesis project generally takes two to four terms and is carried out under the guidance of a faculty member
    • The completion of a thesis generally makes a student eligible for Honors in the major. More information can be found here.
  • Completion of a one-term research project (EARS 87).
  • Completion of EARS 88 (Senior Seminar) in the fall of senior year.

In addition, to fulfill the College's culminating experience requirement, all students must attend the weekly research seminar during Winter and Spring of their senior year.