University of Wisconsin–Madison

Department of Geoscience Five-Year Strategic Plan 2013-2018

The Department of Geoscience is among the world’s leaders in research and education. Our research programs are both broad and deep in traditional areas of sedimentary geology, hydrogeology, geophysics, mineralogy, petrology, geochemistry, structural geology, and surface processes. While our graduate program has trained generations of leaders in academia and industry, we are also highly committed to educating undergraduate majors and non-science students alike. Moreover, the Department plays a unique role on campus through strong connections to other programs including, for example, participation in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and close collaboration with the College of Engineering to jointly train future geological engineers. In parallel to research on societal problems including climate change, geohazards, the environment, and natural resources, our faculty pursue frontier studies focused on big questions such as the origin of life in the solar system, geologic triggers for global biotic changes, and the deep-seated processes that drive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

In order for our nation to secure its energy and other natural resources, to understand threats to its water and environment, and to prepare for hazards posed by earthquakes, volcanism, floods, tsunamis, and global climate change, it is imperative as never before that we produce a population that is both Geoscience literate and which contains a highly educated Geoscience workforce. Recent estimates by the American Geological Institute, Washington D.C., and the American Association of Petroleum Geologists indicate that the current pipeline of Geoscience students is woefully undersized to meet growing demand in the energy and mining industries, the hydrogeology and environmental geology industries, the geological engineering of roads, dams, power plants, and buildings, and in governmental agencies that assess natural hazards. Yet — we face a major challenge in that the demand for professional Geoscientists is expanding far more rapidly than in other fields, precisely at a time when public funding of our University and Department is shrinking dramatically.

We aim to improve our stature as a premier program in Geoscience research and education and thus lead the way toward meeting the burgeoning demand for a highly educated Geoscience workforce.

Interdisciplinary research that bridges physical, chemical, biological, and environmental approaches to Earth processes offers the greatest potential for discoveries that will impact our science and society at large. During the past decade the hiring of new faculty in geophysics, sedimentary geology, structural geology, geochemistry, and surface processes has led to many highly successful collaborations and synergies across  disciplines. However, recent and imminent departures of faculty now threaten this success. To meet our goal we must:

  •  Re-build and strengthen our core research areas through the hiring of new faculty in the face of a reduced state budget.
  • Provide undergraduate and graduate students with the experience, tools, and insight they must have to become future leaders in fulfilling the country’s critical needs. This will require new resources to support graduate teaching and research assistants.
  • Invest Departmental resources in new ways to sustain our world-class research infrastructure,including technical support for laboratories and computational facilities.

Meeting our goal will require that the Department engage its Board of Visitors, target support from alumni toward our most critical needs, and work closely with the College of Letters & Science administration to raise awareness of, and support for, these initiatives.

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