The Department of Earth Sciences views its program as a flexible one that allows students to develop a plan of study according to their interests (tracks include geoscience, environmental geoscience,and student-developed) around a required set of core courses. We offer a variety of courses that are appropriate for majors and non-majors.

Courses appropriate for prospective majors

Students usually begin the study of earth sciences with 100-level courses.

For course descriptions and requirements for the major, refer to the Academic Bulletin: Earth Sciences.

Courses that fulfill distribution requirements

Introductory courses that fulfill the Laboratory Science (Division III) distribution requirement or the Quantitative Reasoning (QR) requirement include:

ERSC 141, Earth's Hazards
ERCS 142, Earth's Changing Climates

Suggested curricular flow through the major

The ERSC major was designed with the requisite flexibility to enable our students to study abroad for either a semester or a full academic year. As a result, we developed the curriculum so that the student who did spend a year abroad could complete all the requirements for the major, as long as they followed a few guidelines.

The guidelines are written for the entering student who knows they want to major in ERSC. Rather than specify the courses that you "must" have in a given semester, the following are general guidelines regarding courses that we suggest you take during each year. You should think of these guidelines as giving you a fast track into the major—this provides maximum flexibility in your junior and senior year for study abroad and/or your capstone experience described below.

First Year
ERSC 141, Earth's Hazards 
ERSC 142, Earth's Changing Climate
CHEM 131 or 141 (students taking 131 are encouraged to take 132 as well, but it is not required)
MATH 121 and/or 170 depending on track (students are encouraged to take other math as well, but it is not required)
PHYS 131 (students taking 131 are encouraged to take 132 as well, but it is not required)

Sophomore Year
Two required cored courses (ERSC 302, 305, 309, 331)
Two electives (ERSC 201, 202, 204, 208, 218*, 220, 221, 306, 307)
Complete CHEM, MATH, and PHYS

Junior Year
ERSC general electives
Two electives (ERSC 201, 202, 204, 208, 218*, 220, 221, 306, 307)
Complete ERSC course requirements (ERSC 302, 305, 309, 331) and enroll in ½ credit of Capstone in Spring semester.
**If studying abroad make sure the institution offers the needed required courses.**  Ideally, you will study abroad during the spring semester of your sophomore year and/or the fall semester of your junior year to avoid the senior capstone experience which begins the spring of your junior year.

Senior Year
Normally a 1/2 credit of Capstone in the Fall semester.
ERSC electives as needed

*ERSC 218 (Geographic Information Systems) is difficult to get into. Therefore you should try to preregister for this class as soon as you can, and keep trying until you get in.

For information regarding the suggested guidelines, please feel free to contact an ERSC faculty member. Students not following these guidelines may still be able to study for a year abroad and still complete the major, but will face a more demanding senior year. Many students who do study abroad for a year are able to complete both the ERSC major and a second major in Archaeology or Environmental Science due to the overlap in these programs of study.


An Independent Research project may be considered for departmental honors if it demonstrates superior quality of work. Your advisor can nominate you for Honors at the end of the fall semester of your senior year based on your capstone research project. To be considered for Honors, you must have a cumulative GPA across the College of 3.5. Only students doing independent research for capstone can be considered for Honors (i.e., either ERSC 550 or 560). The faculty other than the thesis supervisor will decide if you are worthy of Honors. You can do more independent research in the spring of your senior year up to 2.0 credits of capstone independent research (i.e., 0.5 in JR spring, 0.5-1.0 in SR fall, and 0.5-1.0 additional credit in the SR spring should the student elect to continue). Thus you can take a maximum of 1 credit of independent research per semester in your senior year. Regardless if your research continues into the spring of your senior year, the Honors decision is based on your GPA and thesis at the end of the fall semester of your senior year.

A first draft of the paper should be turned in to your advisor four weeks before the end of classes to allow revisions so that a final draft will be ready for delivery to the research advisor and the other faculty by the last day of classes. Final revisions to the written thesis are made based on the comments of the readers. The oral defense will be scheduled for the spring semester of your senior year. Defenses are open to other majors, interested friends, faculty, and other guests. After the defense, the faculty (without the research advisor) will vote in private, based on careful consideration of the quality of the paper and defense, and of the academic maturity of the student during the project year. Students who successfully complete the defense will be named in the Commencement Program as having achieved honors.

All the previous student theses are bound and shelved in the department reading room/library (K128). Those that received honors have the designation “h” after the year (e.g., 1957h) on the spine.

Independent study and independent research

Most of our majors do an Independent Study or Research project during their junior or senior year. Students may ask any faculty member in the department to supervise a project. Ideally, you should try to contact the faculty member during the previous semester to make arrangements for advisement. Seniors are required to complete one of three capstone experiences: independent research completion of a pre-approved field camp, or a semester of student teaching (education track only).


Several have been done in the department. Although specific arrangements would need to be made, it is possible to arrange internships with state and federal geologic agencies in Harrisburg. Students have also done internships with local consulting companies. See any member of the department faculty for possible arrangements.and defense, and of the academic maturity of the student during the project year.

Co-curricular activities/programs

The Geology Club is a student-run group that organizes field trips and arranges for speakers during the year. Any Dickinson student may join the group, and it is common for some non-majors to belong.

Early each fall, the department sponsors a weekend field trip for majors and those taking intro earth science courses. Recent trips have explored the Folded Appalachians and the Chesapeake Bay area. In most years, a group of students and one or more faculty members get together for a field trip to some area of geologic interest either during Spring Break or early in summer break. Recent trips have included Hawaii, Yellowstone and Tetons area of Wyoming, the United Kingdom, southern California, Iceland, and Sicily. The field trip costs are partly subsidized by the department’s Cassa Field Trip Endowment.


Opportunities for off-campus study

To be an effective Earth Scientist, it benefits you to have seen as much of the planet as possible.  This helps you appreciate the atmospheric, hydrospheric, biospheric, and geospheric diversity of our planet.  With proper advance planning and declaring your major early, you can take some interesting courses abroad and see more of the world

Additional Remarks

Preparation for graduate study: Virtually all graduate programs in earth sciences expect incoming students to have a firm foundation in Chemistry, Mathematics, and Physics. The department strongly encourages students who plan to continue in graduate school to complete one year in each of the ancillary sciences and to start early in their earth sciences career at Dickinson.

Careers: In addition to graduate education for university teaching and research, environmental law or medicine, recent graduates are employed in environmental and geotechnical consulting, the energy and mining industries, State and U.S. Geological surveys, and other governmental agencies involved in environmental science and policy.

Off-campus study additional information: Some of our majors spend a semester or more in off-campus study. The right place for the right person can result in a richly rewarding experience, but it can also result in delays in completion of important courses for tracks within the major. One recommended off-campus study program is the Dickinson Science Program at the University of East Anglia, England; Professor David Kushner is the present director. Other suitable programs are the Dickinson program in Queensland, Australia, and the Earth Sciences program at the University of Otago, New Zealand. A caution: Students who contemplate off-campus study should discuss their plans with one or more of the department faculty as early as possible.

Additional Information on independent study, research, and other academic issues may be obtained from the department web site.