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Geology & Environmental Studies Major Guide for 2016-2017

What is Geology & Environmental Studies?

The common thread of the two concentrations that make up the G&ES degree program is that they deal with the universe around us—how it impacts us, how we impact it, and what it tells us about ourselves.  Geology is the study of the Earth, the materials of which it is made, the structure of those materials, and the processes acting upon them. It includes the study of organisms that have inhabited our planet. An important part of geology is the study of how Earth’s materials, structures, processes and organisms have changed over time.  Environmental studies is the academic field which systematically studies human interaction with the environment. It is a broad interdisciplinary field of study that includes the natural environment, anthropogenic (human built) environment, and the sets of relationships between them.

The Geology concentration in G&ES consists of a variety of general scientific courses (chemistry, math, biology, and physics), a series of core courses (mineralogy, igneous and metamorphic petrology, paleobiology, earth sedimentary processes, earth structure and geophysics, and planetary geoscience), and then a minimum of three upper-level G&ES electives plus a summer geology field-camp experience.  We have such a variety of courses and, especially, co-requisite science requirements because there is a tremendous breadth of science that falls within the field of geology. Some geoscientists explore the geological make-up of Earth materials, others focus on geologic hazards and resources, some explore the physical or chemical or biological evolution of the Earth, and still others take geology beyond the reams of Earth to the study of extraterrestrial bodies.

The Environmental Studies (ES) concentration in G&ES requires a sound and broad base in both biological and physical sciences to provide an understanding of how the world works. Courses in agriculture, sociology, philosophy, and economics are required in order to provide an understanding of the importance of human and economic values in making environmental decisions. Thus, a goal of the program is to offer a curriculum that emphasizes the relevance of human economic values and science in making prudent environmental decisions.

Career Opportunities in G&ES

Career opportunities in the Geosciences are as varied as the science. Currently in the United States, there are over 120,000 people employed as geoscentists in industrial, educational, and government realms, and numerous more are employed overseas. The broad scientific and technological background of geoscientists, in particular, makes them premier hires in the industrial sector, where most geologists are employed by companies dedicated to environmental issues, water resource management, petroleum and mineral exploration, and geotechnical engineering. A strong scientific background is also favored by postgraduate programs that specialize in environmental law and policy.

Graduates in Environmental Studies have an exceptionally wide range of options. These include careers in environmental policy and law, environmental regulatory agencies, business careers in industries that promote sustainable lifestyles, and many scientific and technical careers such as groundwater testing, wildlife management and toxic waste cleanup. Careers in environmental education are also popular.

Salary Trends in Geology

As with all professions, starting salaries for Geoscientists vary with the employment sector, level of education, and years of experience. Although many jobs are available for students with only a Bachelor’s degree in the geological sciences, many positions for geoscientists, particularly in industry, favor the Master’s degree. Recent statistics from the US Department of Labor show that average salaries for all degree levels range as follows: 0–2 years experience – $25,000 to $60,000; 3–5 years experience – $40,000 to $70,000; 6–9 years experience – $50,000 to $80,000; 10–14 years experience – $60,000 to $90,000; 15–19 years experience – $70,000 to $100,000; greater than 20 years experience – $80,000 to $120,000. Variation in salary also reflects managerial skills, technological skills, verbal and written communication skills, flexibility of expertise and interest, and willingness to relocate, travel, or participate in domestic and/or overseas field excursions.

Salaries for graduates in Environmental Studies have generally increased over the past decade. This increase has been driven by the growing demand for expertise in cleaning up many environmental problems ranging from air and water pollution to species extinction from habitat loss and the introduction of exotic species.

High School Preparation

The best preparation for a college career with a Geoscience concentration is a broad background in the physical, biological, and mathematical sciences, which will foster analytical, reasoning, and problem solving skills. High school students should try to take as many courses as possible in mathematics, chemistry, biology, and physics

A good start for the Environmental Studies concentration would be foundation in biological sciences, especially ecology, chemistry and earth sciences are important. Broad training is social sciences including psychology, sociology and economics is very useful.

How to Major in G&ES?

The geology and environmental studies concentrations are managed by members of the faculty from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. You may contact the coordinators through the Department office at 974-2366 or by email:

Requirements for G&ES

The Geology concentration requires a broad background in the physical sciences. Co-requisite requirements include Math 141 and 142 or Math 151 and 152, Biology 130 or 111, and either Physics 135 or Physics 221.

Upper-division requirements include Geology 310, 320, 330, 340, 370, 380 (24 hours), a minimum of 5 hours of an approved field camp, and 9 elective hours at the 400-level or above. We encourage students to participate in undergraduate research (Geology 493). A maximum of 3 hours of Geology 493 may count towards the major.

Students with five completed upper-division Geology courses and a cumulative GPA of at least 3.25 are encouraged to pursue an honors concentration.  In addition to fulfilling all requirements for the geology major, an honors concentration requires successful completion of nine hours of honors course work (including Honors-by-Contract courses or other honors courses), 3 hours of Geology 491, 492, or 493 beyond normal major requirements, approved written thesis, and oral presentation of the thesis results.  A GPA of at least 3.25 must be maintained throughout matriculation.  Interested students should consult their academic advisor for details.

A minor in Geology consists of two courses from Geology 101-102-103-104, and an additional 16 hours at the 200-level or above. A maximum of 6 hours at the 200-level and 3 hours of Geology 493 may count towards the minor.

I. Geology Concentration Pre- and Co-Requisites

  • Two of the following courses: Geology 101, 102, 103, and 104
  • Math 141-142 or 151-152
  • Biology 111 or 130
  • Chemistry 120-130
  • Physics 135 or 221

Geology Core

  • 24 hours in the core sequences courses: Geology 310 (mineralogy), 320 (Paleobiology), 330 (Metamorphic Petrology), 340 (Earth Sedimentary Processes), 370 (Earth Structure and Geophysics), 380 (Planetary Geoscience)
  • A minimum of 5 hours in a summer geoscience field training course (“field camp”)

9 hours at the 400 level or above in the Earth & Planetary Sciences Department (including independent research).

II. Environmental Studies Concentration Pre- and Co-Requisites

  • Biology 130–140 or Biology 111–112 or Biology 101-102
  • Biology 250
  • Chemistry 100-110 or Chemistry 120-130 or Physics 221-222
  • Geology 101 or 102 or 103 or 104
  • Economics 201
  • Math 123–125 or 141–142 or 151–152

    Environmental Studies Core
  • 15 hours from: Geography 345; Sociology 360 or 464 or 465 (only one); Philosophy 346; Economics 362 or Agricultural Economics 445 (only one); Global Studies 250; Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries 250; Journalism and Electronic Media 451; Agricultural Economics 315.
  • 3 hours from: Geology 455 or Geology 456
  • 3 hours from: Geography 436 or Ecology & Evolutionary Biology 484
  • 3 hours from: Geology 493Specialty
    12 hours at the 300 level or above in an agreed-upon department, including: Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science; Chemistry; Earth and Planetary Sciences; Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Economics; Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries; Geography; Political Science; or Sociology.

Honors Concentration

Students who have completed five upper-division courses in either the Geology or Environmental Studies concentration and maintain a cumulative GPA of at least 3.25 are encouraged to pursue an honors concentration. In addition to fulfilling all requirements for their preferred concentration, an honors concentration requires 3 hours of GEOL 491 , GEOL 492 , or GEOL 493 ; 3 hours of GEOL 497 during which students will complete written and oral presentation of thesis results; and an additional 9 hours of honors coursework (including honors-by-contract). A GPA of at least 3.25 must be maintained throughout matriculation. Interested students should consult their academic advisor for details.

Special Programs, Co-ops, and Internships

There are many opportunities for G&ES undergraduate students to participate in special programs, co-ops, and internships. These programs help students develop their interests in the geosciences, offer practical field and laboratory experience, and provide invaluable contacts and experience for the future.

Within the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, we strongly encourage all students to participate in undergraduate research opportunities. These opportunities allow students to participate directly in geoscience research for periods of 3 months to a year or more and can be done for undergraduate credit (Geology 493) or for pay. Following their research, students frequently present the results of their research at regional or national conferences.

Research opportunities are available outside of the department in the Geosciences. These opportunities include summer research internships at national laboratories, government agencies, national parks, and in the industrial sector. Research opportunities are typically announced in the department as they become known, and there are several internet sites that provide links to these special programs:

Environmental Studies tudents have an opportunity to intern at over 20 environmental organizations. These range from non-profit grass-roots environmental groups to state and federal governmental agencies to childhood and adult environmental education.

Highlights of G&ES

The Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences prides itself on a student-friendly atmosphere. Major classes are small (typically <20 students), there are opportunities (through undergraduate research and 400-level electives) to tailor the program to personal interests, and students have many opportunities to get to know their professors on a one-on-one basis. We encourage undergraduate participation in departmental activities — everything from interacting with graduate students, to participating in departmental seminars, brown-bag lunches, barbecues, and parties. The department provides undergraduates with in-house computer services, a study lounge, and access to conference/ workshop travel grants and more than $20,000 in awards and scholarships that are presented each Spring.

To facilitate undergraduate involvement in the department, EPPSA, the Earth & Planetary Sciences Student Association, has both graduate and undergraduate officers. EPPSA typically arranges weekend excursions (spelunking, white-water rafting, visits to local geologic and environmental sites, etc.), plans several departmental parties per year (Fall BBQ, Halloween Party, Spaghetti Supper, Spring Pig Roast), and produces the annual Spaghetti Supper Movie, in which students display their creativity while making fun of their professors.  In addition, the EPPSA encourages & facilitates student involvement in community activities with the McClung Museum, Knoxville Gem and Mineral Society, Eastern TN Geological Society, the Beardsley Community Farm, and other non-profit organizations such as Save Our Cumberland Mountains and the Knox Environment Society.


Ready for the World logoReady for the World

“Ready for the World” is part of a long-range plan to transform the UTK campus into a culture of diversity that best prepares students for working and competing in the 21st century. Thus students are encouraged to actively participate in the diverse cultural programs offered on campus. Some of these events include the guest lecture series, cultural nights at the International House, and international film screenings. Visit the Center for International Education web site ( or the Ready for the World web site ( for more information on upcoming cultural programs and activities.  Learn more about UT’s Ready for the World initiative to help students gain the international and intercultural knowledge they need to succeed in today’s world.

Students are also encouraged to develop a global perspective within their academic program through study abroad. Studying abroad options do exist for science majors! Possibilities include (but are not limited to) studying parasitology in Botswana, environmental chemistry in Fiji, igneous petrology in Iceland, or particle accelerator physics in London. In addition to taking science courses abroad, many science majors have elected to fulfill their language requirement and/or general education courses overseas.

Consult an academic advisor early in your academic career about the best time for you to study abroad as well as what courses you may need to take. For more information about program options, the application process, and how to finance study abroad, please visit the Programs Abroad Office website.

Experience Learning

Experience Learning LogoExperience Learning is a bold new initiative with the goal of transforming the educational student experience at the University of Tennessee. Over a five-year period, UT will transform our culture to give students more opportunities to be involved in civic engagement, solve complex real-world problems, and contribute to the welfare of their communities as part of their regular course work.

The purpose of Experience Learning is to help students apply the knowledge, skills, and values learned in the classroom to real-world challenges. Experience Learning also seeks to engage student learning through direct experience and intense reflection to increase knowledge, acquire lifelong learning and problem-solving skills, and elucidate values.

Learn more about Experience Learning.

Academic Plan and Milestones

Following an academic plan will help students stay on track to graduate in four years. For first-time, first-year, full-time, degree-seeking students, UT has implemented Universal Tracking (uTrack), an academic monitoring system designed to help students stay on track for timely graduation. In order to remain on track, students must complete the minimum requirements for each tracking semester, known as milestones. Milestones may include successful completion of specified courses and/or attainment of a minimum GPA.

To see a sample academic plan and milestones for this major, please visit the undergraduate catalog for both the geology or environmental studies concentration.

For More Information

Students interested in geology as a major are encouraged to visit our departmental web site ( or contact a departmental advisor for more information.

Dept. of Earth & Planetary Sciences
1412 Circle Drive
The University of Tennessee
Knoxville, TN 37996
Phone: 865-974-2366
Fax: 865-974-2368


The information on this page should be considered general information only. For more specific information on this and other programs refer to the UT catalog or contact the department and/or college directly.

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