Shift in focus proposed for environmental program

Seeking to boost student enrollment, the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences is proposing to consolidate its major offerings from three major programs to two, said department chair Peter Rosen.

The changes would create a new bachelor of science (BS) program in environmental science, effectively combining the existing BS in geology and the BS in environmental geology.

The BS in environmental science will give students the option of four different concentrations – marine science, wildlife studies, surficial processes and environmental geology. Students unsatisfied with the course makeup of the concentrations would be able to formulate an independent concentration, Rosen said.

As a result of the proposed changes, current geology and environmental geology majors would be suspended, but current students would not be affected by the changes.

“The basis of the programs is still physical processes of the surface of the earth,” Rosen said.

The changes will go before the College of Arts and Sciences Council for approval today.

The name change for the major would be the second within the department in five years. The program changed its name to Earth and Environmental Sciences from Geology five years ago.

With the change, Rosen said the program’s enrollment rose.

“There is a general reluctance from students coming out of high school in New England to go into geology,” Rosen said. “There was a lot of interest [from freshmen] when we changed the name [to include environmental science].”

With the reorganization of major programs, Rosen and other university administrators hope enrollment will rise.

“At the orientations I’ve been to, every student who has come up to the Earth and Environmental Sciences table has asked about environmental science,” said Malcolm Hill, a geology professor who stepped down from the position of vice provost for undergraduate education this fall. “So it is something students in high school are coming to college looking for. In a place like New England, does it make sense to shift your emphasis from a geology base while at the same time keeping a geology track? I think the answer is yes.”

Rosen said the name change would not lead to budget cuts in the department and would keep the course content largely similar to what is offered now.

But junior environmental geology major Hillary Boone said she has doubts about the capacity of a geology concentration to offer the same type of programming a major does.

“It’s a huge loss for students,” she said. “It’s a stronger degree [with its own major], and it’s more focused. It sets you up for different sorts of graduate programs. A concentration in geology is not going to cover what a major would, and you won’t be as prepared for further studies in the geo-sciences.”

Senior environmental geology major Jason Turgeon said he hadn’t heard of the changes, but didn’t experience any substantive changes when name changes have taken place in the past.

“I don’t know if it’s a real change or just another name change,” Turgeon said. “There have been a lot of name changes in my five years here. The content hasn’t changed.”

The idea to restructure the major offerings was initiated by Provost Ahmed Abdelal and College of Arts and Sciences Dean James Stellar.

Rosen was approached by Stellar to implement the changes and agreed to their suggestions, he said.

A student desire to see more offerings under the umbrella of environmental sciences provoked the administration, said Kristin Stanley, a spokeswoman for Stellar.

“We’re making these changes based on what the students are telling us that they want,” she said. “We exercise that kind of scrutiny with any kind of program.”

Located in the basement of Holmes Hall, the Earth and Enivronmental Sciences department is a rarity at Northeastern because it offers degrees solely to undergraduates.

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