Writing Intensive Undergraduate Field Camp and Education: Expanding the Classroom and Preparing Students for the Workforce

Monday, 15 December 2014: 2:40 PM
Mark T Ford and Thomas L McGehee, Texas A & M University Kingsville, Kingsville, TX, United States
There has always been a strong perception within the geoscience community that a capstone field course was the pinnacle of an undergraduate geoscience degree. Such a course draws from the student’s accumulated knowledge base, using information from multiple sub-disciplines to solve “real-world” problems. Since 2006, there has been a 92% increase in students attending field camps (Status of the Geoscience Workforce 2014 – AGI). But, the number of field camps has significantly declined. In 1995, 35% of geoscience departments offered a summer field course but by 2006 that number had dropped to 15% (Status Report on Geoscience Summer Field Camps – AGI) and since 2009, the number of field camps listed in the Geology.com directory has dropped from 100 to about 75. This decline is despite the fact that 88% of industry professionals believe fieldwork should “be an integral and required part of undergraduate programs” (Petcovic, et al., 2014).

In 2012, in order to meet the growing needs of industry and better prepare our students, Texas A&M University-Kingsville developed an in-house, unique set of field courses that expand the limits of the classroom. We have two required courses. One is similar to a traditional field camp except that it contains a writing intensive component. The six-credit course runs for seven weeks. Prior to camp, students are required to write an introduction (geologic history section) on the study area. We spend two weeks in the field, mapping daily (Big Bend National Park), and then return to Kingsville. Students then have two weeks to finish a fully referenced paper, including their edited introduction, methods, observations, interpretations, discussion and conclusions and once complete, they begin the introduction for the next area. This is another two-week field session, in central Texas. After this, we return the first paper which has been edited for content by geoscience faculty and for grammar by an English instructor. Students spend the next few days correcting edits and turn in a polished, final draft. They use edits and suggestions from this first paper to complete the second paper. Our second field course or “professional development” course occurs between the fall and spring semesters and is two credits, co-taught by industry leaders, and also writing intensive.