Higher Education and Sustainability

WMU bets on students digging hydrogeology

Graduate certificate program prepped for students on campus, online.

July 29, 2016
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WMU’s six-week field course has drawn hydrogeology students from all over the world. ©Thinkstockphoto.com

If a new program expansion takes off, Western Michigan University hopes to continue drawing a steady stream of graduates into a field — hydrogeology — that could really use the influx.

“Environmental consulting and regulation are both professions that need good people — as we saw recently with the Flint debacle,” said Duane Hampton, associate professor of geosciences and one of the founders of WMU’s hydrogeology field course. “And we don’t need an infinite number of workers. We just need people with experience, good training and background. Heaven knows we need good people in those roles.”

This fall, the college will introduce a graduate certificate program in applied hydrogeology. The 15-credit graduate certificate program will complement a six-week summer hydrogeology field course that has drawn students from all over the world since 1987. Hydrogeology is the study of the distribution and movement of groundwater.

Hampton said the new grad certificate program was born from a meeting a couple of years ago with an advisory group of alumni and friends of the program, along with the school administration.

“The thought had occurred that after they graduate from the field work course, what comes next?” Hampton said. “There are hydrogeology graduate courses elsewhere, but for the most part, they don’t have the applied focus or wide swath of interests that we do here.”

With the gears set in motion, Hampton and his colleagues began to develop a program that not only fit the needs of on-campus students but also those learning remotely. Only about one-third of students who take the field work course come from Western Michigan, while the other two-thirds come from other schools in the state and around the world, he said.

The 15-credit graduate certificate program will include the six-credit field work course and three of six available three-credit courses that will be taught online or in-person. Those classes are:

  • Hazardous Waste Remediation.
  • Surface Water Hydrology.
  • Introduction to Soils.
  • Contaminant Hydrology.
  • Glacial Geology.
  • Stable Isotope Geochemistry.

The department of geosciences also hired a new faculty member, Matt Reeves, to teach the contaminant hydrology course.

Hampton said the new certificate program will offer flexibility for students looking to advance their careers, with most of the classes already designed to be taken online. Some of the classes still need to be tailored to online learning — and that has been a challenge, Hampton said.

“There’s a fair amount of work that goes into converting courses historically offered face-to-face for online,” he said.

But once those courses go live, the new program will open up possibilities for students. As Hampton noted, a potential target group for the program is professionals making a late career change, such as geologists formerly working for oil companies.

Hampton isn’t sure how much interest there will be in the program in the first couple of years. But if the instructors can create courses that are tailored to students’ needs even online, he’ll consider it a success.

“It’s all right if we don’t have a lot of students at first,” he said. “We’re trying to work the kinks out, and the hardest thing is to replace the in-class interaction that you have with the students with meaningful online interactions. We have expert help in figuring that out, but I would view it as a success if we can do that, and the students will come if it’s all we hope it is."

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