Geological sciences redesigns major in favor of fewer units and new core

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Stanford’s geological sciences department has redesigned its major and minor requirements for the 2020-21 academic year, opting for lower unit counts and a more diverse curriculum.

There are currently only three undergraduate students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in the geological sciences. For context, Stanford conferred 328 degrees in computer science — the most popular major — with an overall average of 31 degrees conferred per department or program in the 2018-19 academic year. Because of the high number of requisite courses and changes in faculty, the department decided to overhaul its major and minor requirements for the 2020-21 academic year.

In her sediments class, there were only three enrolled students, according to geological sciences and earth systems double major Kelly Dunn ’22. The smaller classes are an advantage, Dunn said, as she can easily become friends with all the students in the department. The smaller scale of the major allows for “an intimate way to connect with people easily and really feel welcome within a community,” she said.

The new six core courses can be taken in any order for the major, “leading to a lot of potential entry points,” said Department Chair Kevin Boyce. These new courses allow students to fulfill the requisite physics, chemistry and other requirements within the context of geosciences — instead of following traditional course sequences, like PHYSICS 41, 43 and 45.

“There’s a new geochemistry course that teaches all the chemistry you really need to know,” Dunn said. The department also reduced required units overall, which has “nearly halved the major,” according to Dunn.

Boyce said many students were “relying upon previous experience,” dependent upon their high school background, “to get through the major.” The newly added flexibility in core courses allows for greater exploration of the major that typically isn’t covered in high school curricula, Boyce told The Daily.

Furthermore, the redesigned major now focuses on the interests of younger faculty, according to Boyce. Dunn mentioned that while the old major focused on classical geology, the redesigned degree has “a more diverse curriculum” in place.

According to the major’s student services coordinator Lauren Mendoza-Tabinas, the change in standards “was a moment for the department to reinvigorate the major” and make the program more “broad and encompassing of all the new faculty that were recently hired.”

Dunn believes more people will join the program in the coming years. At networking events, she has seen more prospective students and a greater interest in the geological sciences. According to Mendoza, “there is definitely interest just not awareness about the program.”

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Victoria Hsieh '24 is a Staff Writer for The Daily looking to major in Economics and Biology. She is a Seattle native and enjoys hiking in her free time. Contact The Daily’s News section at news ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.