Department of Geology and Astronomy

207 Merion Science Center
Martin Helmke, Chairperson

PROFESSORS: Busch, Gagné, Good, Lutz, Srogi

ASSOCIATE PROFESSORS: Fisher, Helmke, Hilliker, Nikitina, Schwarz, Smith


The Department of Geology and Astronomy prepares students for careers in geoscience and geoscience education. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that employment of geoscientists is projected to grow by 21% from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations. This geoscience degree prepares students for entry-level positions in such occupations and is also a strong foundation for people interested in pursuing advanced degrees. Geoscience is an integrated study of the Earth, its geologic history, composition and structure, resources, natural hazards, atmosphere and oceans, and its environment in space. Geoscientists study such phenomena as earthquakes, landslides, floods, volcanoes, coastal erosion, and how these natural hazards impact humans. Geoscientists explore for mineral, energy, and water supplies. Geoscientists also attempt to make predictions about Earth’s future based on the past. Since most human activities are related to interaction with the physical components of Earth, geoscience plays a unique and essential role in today’s rapidly changing world. The Department of Geology and Astronomy offers two bachelor of science degree programs and a certification program in general science. The department also offers minors in astronomy, geology, earth science, and science education. All programs emphasize analytical skills and build on course work in mathematics, chemistry, physics, and statistics. Written and oral communication is emphasized in a majority of the course work.

  1. The B.S. in GEOSCIENCE program offers two areas of concentration that share a common core of geology courses. Students completing either concentration are prepared for a career as professional geoscientists and possess the educational requirements to seek licensure as certified professional geologists. The geology concentration leads to occupations in managing and exploring for water, energy, and mineral resources; environmental protection, remediation, and management; mitigation of natural hazards; design of land development and management plans; geotechnical consulting; and research. Its curriculum emphasizes depth in the traditional disciplines of geology such as mineral and rock formation, paleontology, structural geology, geomorphology, and hydrogeology. The earth systems concentration is intended for students who want a broader understanding of geoscience, astronomy, and human interactions with the environment. In addition to the geology core, students in this concentration take required courses in oceanography, meteorology, and astronomy. This concentration is excellent preparation for students pursuing careers in geoscience, the environmental industry, resource management, environmental law, or environmental policy.
  2. The B.S. in EDUCATION in EARTH AND SPACE SCIENCES is a professional degree program designed to prepare certified secondary school teachers with an overall science exposure and specialization in the earth and space sciences. The program meets all guidelines established by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), and the National Science Teachers' Association (NSTA) for earth and space science certification.
  3. The certification program in GENERAL SCIENCE enables recipients to teach science in grades 6-9. The certification program meets all guidelines established by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE).

All students must consult with their adviser regularly to ensure timely completion of the degree. Those in the B.S. in education program will have a second adviser in the College of Education to help students meet the secondary education requirements.


  1. General ed. requirements, see pages 38-44 (48 semester hours)
  2. Math requirement (3 semester hours)
    MAT 121
  3. Science cognate requirements (8 semester hours)
    CHE 103 and CRL 103, PHY 130 or 170
  4. Geoscience courses (27 semester hours)
    ESS 101, 204, 301, 302, 331, 343, 405, 420, and 450
  5. A grade of C- or better must be achieved for all required courses within the department including the required electives, as well as those in biology, chemistry, math, and physics.


(120 semester hours)

Concentration in Geology

  1. Additional math and computer science requirements (6-7 semester hours)
    MAT 108 or 161 and ESS 321 or GEO 324 or 325 or CSC 115 or higher
  2. Required courses (11 semester hours)
    ESS 201, 347, 439, 447, and ESS/BIO/ENV 102
  3. Geology and astronomy electives (9 semester hours)
    Any three ESS courses at the 300 or 400 level

Concentration in Earth Systems

  1. Additional math requirement (3 semester hours)
    MAT 105 or 110

  2. Additional science cognates (3 semester hours)
    BIO 110 (grade of C- or higher required)
  3. Required courses (16 semester hours)
    ESS 201, 311, 330, 347, 370, and ESS/BIO/ENV 102 or SCB 210
  4. Geology and astronomy electives (6 semester hours)
    Any two ESS courses at the 300 or 400 level


(126 semester hours)

All students seeking a B.S.Ed. must formally apply for admission to teacher education. (See the "Educator Preparation Programs" section of this catalog for an explanation of related requirements.) Only those students formally admitted to teacher education will be eligible to enroll in SCE/SCB 350. Once admitted to teacher education, students must maintain the minimum GPA specified by the College of Education in order to continue taking advanced professional course work. If a student falls below the minimum GPA, he or she will be permitted to retake - in accordance with University policy - professional course work that contributed to the fall below the minimum GPA but will not be permitted to take additional work until the minimum is met.

  1. Secondary education requirements (36 semester hours)
    EDA 103, 304; EDP 250; EDR 347; EDS 306, 411, and 412; HIS 444; LAN/ENG 382; SCB or SCE 350
  2. Additional math requirements (3 semester hours)
    MAT 105 or 110
  3. Additional science cognates (3 semester hours)
    BIO 110
  4. Core requirements (30 semester hours)
    ESS 101, 201, 204, 201, 301, 302, 331, 343, 405,
    420, and 450
  5.  Additional requirements (13 semester hours)
    ESS 311, 330, 347, 370, and ESS/ENV/SCB 102 or SCB 210
  6. Students may obtain additional certification in
    general science and/or environmental education
    in addition to earth and space science. See
    page 91-93 for requirements.

Minor Programs (18 semester hours)

Students may choose to minor in any of the following programs. Courses are selected with the approval of the department chairperson.

  1. Astronomy
    ESS 111, 307, 355, 491; SCB 210; and one other ESS course (18)
  2. Earth science
    ESS 101, 111, 330, and 370; plus two courses in earth science (18)
  3. Geology
    ESS 101 plus five other geology courses (18)
  4. Science education
    The minor includes a 12-credit generalist area (courses from four of these six areas): (1) SCI 101 or 102, (2) BIO 100 or 110, (3) CHE/CRL 103 or 107, (4) ESS 101, (5) PHY 130, (6) BIO 102 or ESS 102 or SCB 210, as well as advanced course work in these areas to achieve the required 18 credit total: (1) BIO 204, 214, 215, or 217, (2) CHE/CRL 104 or 230, (3) ESS 201, 204, 301, 307, 330, 331, or 370, (4) PHY 140.


Students seeking certification in general science must either be enrolled in a B.S.Ed. program or hold a teaching certificate.

  1. Math requirements (6 semester hours)
    MAT 121, and 105 or 110
  2. Science core requirements (40 semester hours)
    BIO 110, 215, 217; CHE/CRL 103, 104; ESS 101, 311, 330, 370; PHY 130 or 170, 140 or 180
  3. Field, research, technology requirements (12 semester hours)
    Students must take a minimum of 12 additional semester hours in biology, chemistry, earth and space science, health, or physics from the approved list obtained from the adviser. Courses must be taken in at least two departments. The sequence of courses must be approved in advance by the adviser of the certification program and should be based on the student's interests and choice of certification examinations. Students must select courses to include field work, research, and technology components.
  4. Secondary education requirements (36 semester hours)
    EDA 103, 304; EDF 300 or 589 or HIS 444; EDP 250; EDR 347; EDS 306, 411, 412; LAN/ENG 382; SCB or SCE 350


Symbol: ESS unless otherwise shown

101 Introduction to Geology (3) The earth's composition and history; the processes that occur on and within the earth. Two hours of lecture and two hours of lab.

102 Humans and the Environment (3) A study of the ability of humans to survive and maintain their life quality, considering the limited resources and recycling capacity of planet Earth. Note: Students completing ESS 102 may not take BIO 102 or ENV 102 for credit.
Approved interdisciplinary course

111 General Astronomy (3) A descriptive course, including the composition and evolution of solar and stellar systems. Two hours of lecture and two hours of lab.

112 Galaxies and Cosmology (3) An introductory general education course in astronomy. Topics will focus on the properties of light and matter, the evolution of stars and galaxies, and the expansion, structure, history, and fate of the universe. Three hours of lecture.

125 Volcanoes (3) Where do volcanoes occur and why? What happens when volcanoes erupt, and what controls eruptions? What roles have volcanoes played in human history and human culture? How do geologists study volcanoes in order to forecast eruptions and reduce the risks for human populations? This course explores these questions using print, multimedia, and Internet sources. Students will learn how to interpret geological information in order to assess volcanic hazards and forecast volcanic eruptions.

130 Our Coastal Oceans (3) This course examines the physical and biological processes at work in the coastal oceans. The content will be discussed in the framework of regional examples.

170 Introduction to Our Atmosphere (3) Why is the sky blue? What will the weather be tomorrow? What makes tornadoes? How did the ozone hole develop? What is the greenhouse effect? This class will use these questions and others to investigate the basic physical processes that determine the weather and climate on earth. A student who has successfully completed ESS 370 may not subsequently receive credit for ESS 170.

201 Field Geology (3) An introduction to the basic methods of geologic data collection, analysis, and presentation; literature research; and report writing. One weekend field trip is required. PREREQ: ESS 101. Writing emphasis course.

204 Historical Geology (3) The geologic history of Earth inferred by analyzing and evaluating the geologic record of its physical and biological changes on local, regional, and global scales. Laboratory included. PREREQ: ESS 101. Writing emphasis course.

301 Environmental Geochemistry (3) An introduction to principles and applications of geochemistry to geologic systems, including surface and ground waters, soils, and rocks. PREREQ: CHE 103, ESS 101.

302 Mineralogy (3) In-depth survey of the formation, identification, classification, and uses of minerals. Principles of symmetry, crystallography, crystal chemistry, and optical mineralogy. Laboratory and field examination and analysis of minerals. PREREQ: ESS 101, 204, and CHE 103 or equivalent.

307 Geology of the Solar System (3) The geology, origin, evolution, and properties of planets, comets, asteroids, moons, and meteorites.

311 Introduction to Astronomy (3) An introduction to astronomy and astrophysics. Topics include celestial mechanics; the properties of light, matter, and energy; the formation of stars and planets; stellar evolution; galaxies; and cosmology. Two hours of lecture and two hours of lab. PREREQ: MAT 105, 108, 110, or 161, or permission of instructor.

321 Geometrics (3) Application of computational and statistical methods to geologic problems. Geologic sampling, data comparisons in environmental, petrologic, paleontologic, and geochemical problems.

323 General Geologic Field Studies of Southeastern Pennsylvania (3) Occurrence, relationships, and geologic history of the rocks, minerals, and soils of this area, studied at representative locations. PREREQ: ESS 302.

ESS 327 Electron Microscopy I (3) A one-semester lecture/laboratory course in theory operation and applications of electron beam technology in scientific research. Students receive hands-on training and complete a brief research project of their choosing. PREREQ: Six credits of college-level science, or permission from the instructor.

330 Introduction to Oceanography (3) A survey of our present knowledge of the waters and floors of the ocean. PREREQ: ESS 101.

331 Introduction to Paleontology (3) Identification and study of common fossils in order to understand their life processes and geologic significance. PREREQ: One course in geology. Writing emphasis course.

332 Advanced Oceanography (3) An advanced course in oceanography covering marine resources, oceanographic literature, animal-sediment relationships, field techniques, estuaries, salt marshes, sea level changes, and pollution. PREREQ: ESS 330.

336 Environmental Geology (3) The application of geological information to human problems encountered in natural phenomena, such as flooding, earthquakes, coastal hazards, and man-made concerns, including waste disposal, land use, and global change. PREREQ: ESS 101 or permission of instructor.

343 Geomorphology (3) Constructional and degradational forces that have shaped present landforms and are constantly reshaping and modifying landforms. Interpretation of geologic and topographic maps; field studies. PREREQ: ESS 101 and 204.

344 Geomorphology II (3) A continuation of the study of earth surface processes. Interpretation of topographic maps and air photos. PREREQ: ESS 343 or permission of instructor.

347  Earth and Space Science Seminar (1) Weekly seminar featuring guest lectures by geoscience professionals, prominent scientists, faculty, and students. Students will read professional literature, attend and participate in the lecture, and write a summary and/or analysis of each seminar. PREREQ: Six credits of ESS or permission of department.

348 International Geology Field Studies (3) Field investigations of selected countries’ physical environments focusing on geology and natural resources in relationship to cultural traditions, lifestyle, and sustainability. Case studies of human adaptation to local and global environmental challenges will be considered. Two hours of lecture and two hours of lab. PREREQ: ESS 101 or ESS 102 or permission of instructor.

355 Intermediate Astronomy (3) An analytical and qualitative analysis of selected astronomical phenomena. Topics include telescope optics (including photographic and photoelectric attachments), lunar and planetary orbits, stellar motions and magnitudes, galactic classifications, and distances. Two hours of lecture and two hours of lab. PREREQ: ESS 111.

362 History of Astronomy (3) Development of astronomical theories from the ancient Greeks until the 20th century. PREREQ: ESS 111.

370 Introduction to Meteorology (3) A study of the principles governing the earth's atmosphere and how these principles determine weather conditions. PREREQ: Six hours of science and MAT 105 or higher.

371 Advanced Meteorology (3) A continuation of the study of the principles governing the earth's atmosphere and how these principles determine weather conditions. PREREQ: ESS 370.

405 Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology (3) Theories of the formation of igneous and metamorphic rocks based on field occurrence, physical properties, geochemistry, thermodynamics, and petrography. Classification and identification of rocks. Laboratory and field examination and analysis of rocks. PREREQ: ESS 201 and 302.

420 Structural Geology (3) Determination of the sequential development and the forces involved in the various structural features of the earth. PREREQ: ESS 201 and 302.

439  Hydrogeology (3) This applied course covers groundwater flow, well hydraulics, water resources, contaminant transport, and groundwater remediation. Familiarity with calculus is recommended. PREREQ: ESS 301.

442 Geophysics (3) Gravitational, magnetic, seismic (refraction and reflection), and electrical properties of rocks and minerals in the earth. Physical principles of the earth; geophysics in relation to economic deposits. PREREQ: MAT 162 and PHY 140 or 180.

447 Earth and Space Science Seminar (1) Weekly seminar featuring guest lectures by geoscience professionals, prominent scientists, faculty, and students. Students will read professional literature, attend and participate in the lecture, and write a summary and/or analysis of each seminar. PREREQ: ESS 347 or department permission.

450 Sedimentation and Stratigraphy (3) Class, laboratory, and field studies of sediments, sedimentary rocks, depositional processes and environments, and diagenesis. Description, mapping, and correlation of strata to infer temporal-spatial relationships, locate resources, and interpret Earth history. PREREQ: ESS 301, 302, 331, and 343.

460 Internship (1-18) Work with industry, or local, state, or federal government agencies under faculty supervision.
This course may be taken again for credit.

490 Fundamentals of Soil (3) Soil properties, classification, and genesis from geologic, agricultural, and engineering perspectives. Topics include pedology, soil physics, geotechnical engineering, erosion, septic systems, soil contamination, and remediation. PREREQ: ESS 101.

491 Independent Study (1-3)
This course may be taken again for credit.

SCB 210 The Origin of Life and the Universe (3) An interdisciplinary course that presents the theory and evidence of the first three minutes of the universe and formation of the stars, galaxies, planets, organic molecules, and the genetic basis of organic evolution. PREREQ: High school or college courses in at least two sciences.
Approved interdisciplinary course

SCE 310 Science for the Elementary Grades (3) A course to prepare the elementary teacher for teaching science. Selected units or problems that cut across various fields of science. Methods and processes of science and available resources. PREREQ: Completion of science and mathematics general education requirements and formal admission to teacher education. Must reach junior status by the end of the previous semester.

SCE 320 Science Methods for Grades PreK-4 (3) A science methods course for PreK-4 teachers to master classroom and materials preparation and the design of developmentally effective instruction and assessment. Teachers learn methods that promote children’s ability to do inquiry and master Pennsylvania academic standards in science and technology and environment and ecology. PREREQ: Completion of science and math general education requirements and FATE.

SCE 330 Science Methods for Middle Level, 4 - 8 (3) A course to prepare middle-level teachers for teaching science with a focus on the developmental and pedagogical needs of middle-level students. Teacher candidates will apply science content, develop knowledge on how students learn science, explore materials and resources, and learn how to plan and access effective standards-based, middle-level science instruction. PREREQ: 12 credits of science, FATE, and current field clearances.

SCE 350 Science Education in the Secondary School (3) Philosophy, objectives, and methods of teaching science. Practical experience provided. PREREQ: Formal admission to teacher education.
Diverse communities course. Writing emphasis course.

SCI 101 The Carbon Cycle (3) An exploration of how the carbon cycle connects earth and life, thorugh photosynthesis, respiration, decay, rock formation and weathering, and plate tectonics. Humans have altered the carbon cycle by burning fossil fuels. Students investigate the carbon cycle on the WCU campus and consider the implications for global warming. For elementary education majors only. Team taught with the Department of Biology.