Geoscience Across the Curriculum

InTeGrate Hurricane Module“People disagree about climate change and its implications,” says Cathryn Manduca ’80. “But most people agree that if we’re going to live on this planet we need a workforce that understands the earth to help us solve the resource and environmental challenges we face.” But she says that’s not enough. “We also need a citizenry that understands what it means to live sustainably.”

As director of the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College, Manduca is leading a $10 million National Science Foundation grant to help increase understanding by infusing undergraduate courses—in any discipline, at any college—with geoscience. The project, Interdisciplinary Teaching about Earth for a Sustainable Future, or InTeGrate, supports teaching geoscience in the context of societal issues—in geology, political science, economics, and even Spanish language classrooms across the country.

InTeGrate provides faculty members with free, reviewed, and tested courses and modules. Faculty can download and teach entire courses, or pick and choose modules that make sense for their curricula. Each one looks at a scientific problem through a societal lens. Examples of modules include Carbon, Climate, and Energy Resources; Environmental Justice and Freshwater Resources; and Natural Hazards and Risks: Hurricanes—this last one developed by a team led by Williams-Mystic professor Lisa Gilbert.

“The module is focused on the idea that hurricanes are inevitable and that future decision makers will have to deal with them, since 44 percent of the world population lives within 100 miles of the coast,” Gilbert says.

The hurricanes module brings to the fore societal concerns at the heart of a scientific question. “It can be easy for scientists to say, ‘The solution to hurricane risk is to move everyone out of Louisiana.’ Of course, if you go to Louisiana you see it’s not that simple. This module gets students to think about policy, history, and culture, giving them tools to assess and address interdisciplinary problems,” says Gilbert, who jumped at the chance to join the InTeGrate team because of her experience integrating geosciences into an interdisciplinary curriculum at Williams-Mystic, where she’s taught since 2002. 

At the end of the five-year grant, InTeGrate would have upwards of 30 modules and courses on its website (six modules were available by early December, with more on the way in the coming months). Each one is developed by a team of faculty members from different types of institutions across the country and then reviewed by experts. “Each team member teaches with the materials before they’re published,” says Manduca, who majored in geology at Williams and earned her PhD at the California Institute of Technology. “The same materials can be used at Williams and at Berkshire Community College; they can be adapted in different ways for different kinds of teaching environments.” 

Using geoscience to understand larger societal concerns, or taking societal concerns and applying them to geoscience—Manduca says you can describe InTeGrate either way—is a completely new way to teach. And, according to Gilbert—who is now at work on a module about earth systems thinking—“it’s revolutionizing the way geosciences are taught across the country.” That’s a revolution Manduca believes is here to stay.

To learn more about InTeGrate and explore the materials, visit the project’s website.