Updates and Information on Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Skip to main content

Within the next ten years, more than 300,000 geologists are expected to retire, creating a shortfall in the geoscience industry—and plentiful job opportunities for students in college now.

UT seeks to address that potential shortage by expanding and diversifying the geoscience workforce through a new project that will attract and recruit community college students to four-year programs at UT.

The university has received a three-year $416,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for the work, which begins this fall. The project, based in UT’s Departments of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Geography, will be a collaboration with faculty and students at three community colleges in Tennessee—Pellissippi State Community College and Roane State Community College in East Tennessee, and Volunteer State Community College in Middle Tennessee. It also will partner with the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont to give students an annual field experience in a wilderness setting.

“Our idea is to get community college students excited about geology and the earth sciences so they consider the geosciences for a bachelor’s degree and a career,” said Larry McKay, head of the UT Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and the grant’s principal investigator. “The best way to do this is get them into the field and laboratory, where they can work with UT faculty and students.”

UT faculty will work with tenured geology faculty at the community colleges to identify students with a budding interest in geology and physical geography during their introductory geology courses. Those students will be paired with a UT faculty mentor who will advise them on courses to take so they will be well positioned for their areas of study when they transfer to UT. Students also will participate in field workshops and experiential learning activities with UT undergraduate peers. The goal is to help community college students develop support networks that can reduce the social barriers they often encounter when transferring to a large state university.

“We are excited to have this program to get the word out to students about the opportunities available, and we’re trying to connect students with those opportunities,” said Sally Horn, Chancellor’s Professor in UT’s Department of Geography and co-principal investigator on the grant. “The other side is that many of us at UT have become aware of the difficulties community college students face when trying to transfer to a four-year institution. The level of advising and encouragement they receive is often not what it could be.”

The project aims to improve the way institutions track the success of transfer students.

“This will be a model not just for the geosciences but other STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines as well,” McKay said.

The program also seeks to increase diversity in the geosciences by drawing women, students of color, military veterans, rural students, first-generation college students, and other underrepresented groups to the four-year programs, he said. Community colleges tend to have a higher percentage of underrepresented groups than four-year institutions.

Every year, five students from each of the four partner institutions and their faculty mentors will be selected for a five-day residential field geoscience workshop at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. The workshop will include experiential learning activities on geoscience topics including water quality, fossils, landslides, meteorology, and climate change. Students from the summer workshop will be invited to participate in additional enrichment activities during their sophomore year.

UT’s Social Work Office of Research and Public Service will evaluate various components of the program “so we can expand in future years, focus on what is most effective, and continue to do it beyond the three years of the grant,” McKay said.

The program will work with UT’s Tennessee Teaching and Learning Center and the College of Arts and Sciences Advising Center.

Other partners are Kathleen Affholter at Pellissippi State, Arthur Lee at Roane State, Clark Cropper at Volunteer State and Jen Jones at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont.



Lola Alapo (865-974-3993, lalapo@utk.edu