Sep 20, 2019  
2019-2020 General Catalog 
2019-2020 General Catalog


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Department Head: Joel L. Pederson
Location: Geology 205
Phone: (435) 797-1273
FAX: (435) 797-1588

Undergraduate Advisors:
Thomas E. Lachmar, Geology 305A, (435) 797-1247,
Carol M. Dehler, Geology 201, (435) 797-0764,

Graduate Committee:
Susanne Janecke, Geology 206, (435) 797-3877,
Tammy Rittenour, Geology 110, (435) 213-5756,

Degrees offered: Bachelor of Science (BS), Bachelor of Arts (BA), Master of Science (MS), and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Geology; BS and MS in Applied Environmental Geoscience; BS and BA in Earth Science Composite Teaching

Undergraduate emphases: BS in Geology—Hydrogeology- Engineering Geology and Geoarchaeology

Graduate Specializations: MS in Geology—Geomorphology and Earth Surface Processes, Geophysics, Hydrogeology, Petrology and Geochemistry, Sedimentology and Paleoecology, and Structure and Tectonics; PhD in Geology—Geomorphology and Earth Surface Processes

Full details of the learning objectives, assessment plan, student outcomes, and evidence of continuous improvement for these programs of study can be found at this link:

Undergraduate Programs


Geology is the study of the planet Earth, the materials of which it is made, the processes that act on these materials, the products formed, and the history of the planet and its life forms since its origin. Geology considers the physical forces that act within and on the Earth, the chemistry of its constituent materials, and the biology of its past inhabitants as revealed by fossil evidence. Geologists integrate biology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, and physics in the study of our natural surroundings. The knowledge thus obtained is used by geologists to explore for energy, mineral, and water resources; to identify geologically stable sites for major structures; and to provide foreknowledge of some of the dangers associated with the mobile forces of a dynamic Earth. Geologists provide fundamental information required by modern society to plan for cultural and industrial development, reduce geological hazards, identify potential resources, and assist in the design of waste-disposal facilities.

The Department of Geology prepares students for professional careers in the geosciences and provides the background required for advanced studies. The department offers three options of study to meet the growing demand for geoscientists with training in general geology (BS in geology without an emphasis), hydrogeology-engineering geology emphasis, or geoarchaeology emphasis. All options provide exposure to the sciences and an appreciation of our physical surroundings. The BS program in Geology meets the curriculum standards established by the American Institute of Professional Geologists.

The BS in Applied Environmental Geoscience is an interdisciplinary program that combines parts of the traditional geology curriculum with a variety of courses in related subject areas, such as watershed sciences, soils, biology, statistics, and GIS/remote sensing. This degree prepares graduates for careers with the environmental industry, government regulatory agencies, and policy organizations. Environmental geoscience is applied in a range of diverse situations, such as urban development, waste disposal, resource management, engineering, soils and agriculture, and assessment of natural and artificial hazards.

The department also offers the Earth Science Composite Teaching Major to prepare teachers of earth science at the secondary school level. Requirements for this major meet or exceed the standards of the National Science Teachers Association. Those students who major in earth science should be aware that state licensure is required of secondary education teachers. The Earth Science Composite Teaching Major fulfills the requirements that provide eligibility for licensure. Licensure requirements vary from state to state, and students should investigate the requirements for the states in which they intend to seek employment. Advising for the Secondary Teacher Education Program (STEP) and State of Utah secondary education licensure is provided by the USU School of Teacher Education and Leadership (TEAL).

The Department of Geology is housed within the Geology Building, which is located at the northeast corner of the Old Main Quad. The Geology Building provides spacious, well-equipped teaching labs, classrooms, and facilities, including a display and study area for students, computer access, document room, map room, preparation facilities, and research labs.

General College of Science Requirements

All general College of Science requirements are embedded within the various major requirements listed below. No extra coursework is required to fulfill the general college requirements.


Departmental Admission Requirements

New freshmen admitted to USU in good standing qualify for admission to this major. Transfer students from other institutions need a 2.2 GPA, and students transferring from other USU majors need a 2.0 GPA for admission to this major in good standing. Students seeking admission to the Earth Science Composite Teaching Major should be aware that a 2.75 minimum GPA is required for admission to the Secondary Teacher Education Program (STEP) in the School of TEAL. Students in the Hydrogeology-Engineering Geology emphasis must meet all College of Engineering GPA standards appropriate for the courses to be taken having either the ENGR or CEE prefix.

Field Trips and Labs

Most Geology courses have required laboratories and/or field trips. Those enrolled are expected to dress properly for the conditions and observe safety precautions issued by the instructors. Most courses require modest lab fees.

Senior Thesis

Geology majors in good academic standing may elect to complete a senior thesis. This is an endeavor which normally spans a year in its preparation and presentation. Senior thesis credits may be applied toward the elective requirements in the General Geology option. For further information, students should contact their geology advisor or the geology department head.

Suggested Four-year Plans

Suggested semester-by-semester four-year plans for students working toward a bachelor's degree are available in the Geology Department.

Students should consult with their advisor to develop a plan of study tailored to their individual needs and interests.

University Honors Program

The University Honors Program offers students in all colleges and majors the unique opportunity to deepen their educational experience with hands-on practical applications of their academic knowledge. The Honors Program admits incoming, transfer, and existing USU students based on application. High achieving students with at least one year remaining are encouraged to apply.  See the University Honors Program catalog entry and website ( for more information.

Undergraduate Research Opportunities

The Department of Geology offers a range of opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in research activities under the guidance of a faculty mentor. All departmental undergraduate research activities are coordinated by the departmental undergraduate advisor, Tom Lachmar, (435) 797-1247,

Learning Objectives

Upon graduation, geology majors are expected to be able to: (1) identify common minerals; (2) identify common fossils, as well as their ages and the conditions under which they lived; (3) describe sedimentary rocks and measure a stratigraphic section in the field; (4) create a surficial geologic map; (5) define and distinguish between, and determine the type of stress responsible for forming various structural features; (6) use a Brunton compass; (7) read topographic maps, as well as construct profiles from them; (8) read and make geologic maps, as well as construct cross sections from them; (9) know the ages of important geologic features and events in the Earth's history, as well as explain how and why the Earth has changed over time; (10) know the Earth's internal processes and the features produced by them; (11) collect and evaluate geologic data; (12) interpret and create graphs of quantitative data; and (13) communicate observations and interpretations, both orally and in writing.


The Department of Geology relies on a variety of tools to periodically assess its undergraduate program, including: (1) student input in assessment; (2) value-added assessment; (3) college-level assessment; (4) alumni participation in assessment; and (5) faculty program assessment. For more information, please refer to the Geology Department assessment website at:

Additional Information

For more information about bachelor's degree requirements for Geology programs, see the Geology Major Requirement Sheet, available from the department.

Graduate Programs

Admission Requirements

Applicants must have acceptable GRE scores and an acceptable GPA. For the Master of Science program, minimum scores of 40th percentile on the Verbal and Quantitative sections and a GPA of 3.0 are required. For the PhD program, minimum scores of 50th percentile on the Verbal and Quantitative sections and a GPA of 3.4 are required. For both programs, a member of the Geology faculty must agree to serve as the major professor for the applicant prior to acceptance.

Applications will be considered throughout the year, but program entry in fall semester is preferred. Students who wish to be considered for assistantships or other financial aid must have complete applications on file no later than February 15 for entry into the program the following fall semester.

Prerequisites for Matriculation

Completion of a BS or BA in geology, biology, physics, chemistry, engineering or other geoscience-related degree is required for matriculated status. Deficiencies in geology are determined based on current USU undergraduate degree requirements for either the Geology or Hydrogeology-Engineering Geology option, as appropriate. The following geology courses or their equivalents are expected: GEO 1110 , GEO 1115 , GEO 3200 , GEO 3500 , GEO 3550 , GEO 3600 ; GEO 3700  and GEO 4700 , or GEO 5200 . It is expected that any deficiencies will be made up before the end of the first year of graduate study.


There are six broad areas of research emphasis for graduate students and faculty within the department: (1) geomorphology and earth surface processes, (2) geophysics, (3) hydrogeology, (4) petrology and geochemistry, (5) sedimentology and paleontology, and (6) structure and tectonics. Summaries of these activites follow.

Geomorphology and Earth Surface Processes research has included the study of climate, tectonic, and anthropogenic controls on landscape change, erosion, and sedimentation. This includes studies on hillslope processes, landscape evolution of the Colorado Plateau and Grand Canyon, the downstream effect of dams, and river restoration.

Geophysics examines the earth through quantitative methods, such as seismology, magnetics, GPS, geodesy, and gravity. Current geophysics research in the Department of Geology examines rates and magnitudes of crustal deformation through GPS techniques.

Recent research in Hydrogeology includes determining the feasibility of constructing an artificial salmon spawning channel; characterizing, modeling, and monitoring groundwater flow systems; and investigating the hydraulic properties of faults in sandstones as they relate to carbon dioxide sequestration.

Research in Petrology and Geochemistry focuses on the origin and evolution of magmatic systems, hotspots, oceanic lithosphere, collisional orogens, and convergent margin systems. These efforts use field relations, phase chemistry, and whole rock geochemistry to decipher these systems, as well as determine their relationship to the tectonic and geochemical evolution of the Earth.

Research in Sedimentology and Paleoecology currently includes sequence stratigraphy of Paleozoic mixed carbonate-siliciclastic systems in the Great Basin; ecology, paleoecology, and sedimentology of coral reefs; tectonics of  sedimentary basins at plate margins; and basin analysis, isotope geochemistry, and paleobiology of Proterozoic rocks in the western United States.

Research in Structure and Tectonics has included the examination of the mechanical and chemical evolution of fault zones; the structural and tectonic development of extensional structures in the Great Basin; the development of fold-and thrust structures in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Utah; and the characterization of fluid-flow properties in fractured crystalline rocks.

Geology faculty members commonly interact with the faculty and staff of the Utah Water Research Laboratory, the Department of Watershed Sciences, the Department of Plants, Soils, and Climate, and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Financial Assistance

Departmental financial support for incoming graduate students consists primarily of graduate teaching assistantships, which are awarded on a competitive basis. There is often other financial support available, such as research assistantships, resulting from grants or other external funding. Students requesting financial support should apply directly to the department no later than February 15. Admission to the MS or PhD program does not guarantee financial assistance.

Additional Information

Additional information on the research activities of faculty and graduate students may be obtained directly from the Department of Geology's website at

FACULTY - College of Science  

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