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Lack of Qualified Geologists Brings Attention to High School Science Standards

Brad Cramer

The field of earth science, or geoscience, is expanding, but there aren't enough people qualified for careers in the field.

"The geosciences are facing what’s been termed in industry as 'the great crew change,'" says Brad Cramer, associate professor of earth and environmental science at the University of Iowa. "Starting in the 1980s, we reduced the total number of people getting degrees in this field, and we’re going to be facing a shortage of about 80 to 90 thousand trained geoscientists nationwide."

A main reason cited for the lack of qualified professionals is due to common perception that earth science classes taught at a high school level are remedial. 

"Back in the early 19th century, all four science disciplines were given equal platform, and then they were put into a hierarchy of order of study, and earth science was put first, so earth, space, geology," says Ted Neal, clinical associate professor of science education at the University of Iowa. "That eventually became basic science, and that became your proverbial 'rocks for jocks.'"

"Right now the statistics come out that about seven percent of high school students take an earth, space, science class, which is, just terrible," Neal continues.

Both Cramer and Neal are hoping that the Next Generation Science Standards, to be implemented by the end of 2019, will encourage Iowa high schools to give a greater emphasis to geoscience courses. Another effort to make the topic more accessible is the push to get teachers and students interested in earth science that impacts Iowa communities.

"It’s so diverse from one end of the state to the other," says Cramer. "We’ve got rocks that are more than 450 million years old in the eastern side of the state, going all the way over to the Loess Hills, for example, or the soil between here and there... There’s an incredible amount of the history of the earth that you can present to your students in the classroom, literally just by going outside of your own school."

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa