What To Do with a Major in Earth Science or Geography

What can you do with a major in Earth Science or Geography? Because you have an integrated understanding of environmental systems and human dynamics, the possibilities are endless. Our alums seek both graduate training and employment after their time at Vassar. They have earned advanced degrees at institutions such as Johns Hopkins, Stanford, the University of Colorado, Kansas State University, the University of California, Yale, the University of Washington, Rutgers, Duke, Cornell, and the University of Massachusetts, among others. These are some of the career paths reported in a recent survey of alums.

We also have alums who are yoga instructors, doctors, biomedical researchers, cable TV executives, massage therapists, information technology professionals, green architects, and culinary artists, among other occupations. One of our alums, currently a telemarketing manager for Time Warner Cable of New England, wrote in our recent survey, “My career has been informed by Earth science studies in myriad ways. The science-based learning helped me learn from a technical perspective, which has translated well when diagnosing issues and providing solutions in my telecommunications career. I have helped many of our customers overcome interesting challenges as they bring their products/services to market.”

Many of our majors are employed as environmental consultants after graduating from Vassar. In these capacities they work on problems such as identifying groundwater resources, remediating environmental contamination, and assessing earthquake and landsliding risks for construction sites. 

Nicholas Sturdivant (’01) is a licensed geologist in the state of Oregon where he works on a variety of geotechnical engineering projects. Speaking of his Vassar Earth science degree he says “I use critical thinking and field identification methods learned during my time in the geology dept... The work study program allowed me to gain experience in the industry in which I am currently employed... I feel that the higher level courses I took prepared me for employment by giving me the ability to work independently while problem solving with a group at the same time.”

Several graduates have enjoyed careers as scientists for federal and state government agencies. Richelle Hanson (’98) is a geologist for the Maryland Department of the Environment where she works on soil and groundwater contamination problems. Speaking of the skills she acquired through her Earth science degree, she writes “Vassar gave me the background and writing skills used every day in my job...The GIS/Cartography exposure I had at Vassar has continued to be something that is valuable to me in my everyday work life...I think the collaboration between professors and students and use of original sources (journal articles, etc.) for projects and class discussions were most valuable. Also, knowing how to research is/was very helpful in both graduate school and working life.”

Karly Pitman (’99) double majored in geology and astronomy and is now a research scientist at the Planetary Science Institute and affiliate contractor for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and studies planetary surfaces and atmospheres, interstellar materials, and mineral physics. Speaking of her Earth science major, she writes “I was able to pursue research in my senior thesis on meteorites and asteroidal regolith, which I really enjoyed. I liked that as an undergrad, I had total freedom to choose whatever aspect of geology interested me and that the professors tried to facilitate that exploration as much as possible. Doing that project helped in making the first professional contacts in my subfield and gave me enough street cred to land a couple of later jobs.”

Andrew Schmidt (’01) studied hydrology at the University of Colorado after Vassar and now is a hydrogeologist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Region 8, which covers Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. He notes, “Vassar provided me with a broad-based Earth science education. The aspects of my education that had the greatest impact were the diversity of courses, the openness of the learning environment, and the free discussion of environmental issues.”

Lauren Boyd (’02) is the Enhanced Geothermal Systems Program Manager in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Geothermal Technologies Office where she works on research and development of geothermal energy resources. Writing about her Vassar education she says, “I think that my courses in the Geology Department prepared me very well for graduate school and my current job... I took many courses that involved field work in conjunction with classroom and lab work - I feel that this comprehensive approach to learning geology was invaluable and exciting... The accessibility of my professors as a result of small classes and their willingness to meet and talk after class and after hours made a significant difference in my experience as well.”

Kyle Carey (’04) is an Environmental Protection Specialist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Underground Injection Control Program where he regulates hydraulic fracturing associated with diesel fuels under the Safe Drinking Water Act. He notes that “use of the scientific method, group work, writing assignments, and presentations given to my peers at Vassar have served to prepare me for the professional world. I believe I consistently have an advantage over my peers in communicating ideas and generating concepts.”

Many of our alums have followed in our footsteps by embarking on careers in higher education. Ian Saginor (’01) continued his Earth science studies at Rutgers University, where he earned a PhD in volcanology. He subsequently became an assistant professor of geology at Keystone College and says, “I owe most of my field skills to Vassar geology classes. The rigor of courses like structural geology coupled with the open discussions in seminars gave me the knowledge and confidence to pursue a higher degree in geology.” When asked what aspect of our program had the greatest influence on him, he replied, “The small classes and close knit learning environment between students and professors.”

Justin Minder (’04) got a PhD in atmospheric science at the University of Washington after majoring in Earth science and physics at Vassar. He is presently on the faculty at the University at Albany where he specializes in mountain meteorology. Speaking of his Vassar degree he says, “I got a broad geoscience education, learned good critical thinking and communication skills, and got real research experience.”

Brooke Crowley (’02) attended the University of California, Santa Cruz after graduating from Vassar where she studied Earth science, ecology and evolutionary biology. As an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati, she specializes in using stable isotopes and trace element geochemistry to understand dietary niches of animals such as lemurs. Of her current career she says, “I am now a professor in geology. My education at Vassar is directly responsible for this achievement.”

Several of our alums have become secondary school teachers. Dave Jellis (’98) received a master of science in education degree after majoring in Earth science at Vassar and works as a middle school science and language arts teacher. He notes, “My Earth science/geology studies at Vassar mean that I meet Highly Qualified requirements for teaching middle school science. My studies at Vassar gave me a solid foundation in sciences that helped me as a science teacher.” Speaking of what aspect of our program had the most influence on him, he says “The hands-on, experiential learning. Outdoor labs and trips in the field brought what we were learning in the classrooms alive.”

Yvonne Yeung (’07) was awarded a master’s degree in environmental studies with middle school science certification after graduating from Vassar and currently works as an Earth science teacher. Of her Vassar Earth science education she writes, “Aspects of the program that influence me to this day are the ability to think critically in the field and seek to solve problems (vs. waiting to be told the correct answer), experience doing group work in collaborating with others to gather and assess lab data (and patience in doing so), and enthusiasm for the subject matter in general.”

In addition to higher education and secondary school teaching, some of our alums have gone on to careers in museum and outdoor education. Kate Bedient (’01) followed her Vassar Earth science degree with a masters in environmental education and non-profit management from Western Washington University. She presently works for Island Wood, an environmental education center in Washington State where she is in charge of day programs for school children, professional development workshops for teachers, and also develops and evaluates outdoor education curricula.

Dan Wolff (’01) received a master of arts degree in environmental education at Montclair State University and and is currently pursuing a PhD in science education at Teachers College, Columbia University. He presently works for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City as the manager of educational technology. Of his Vassar Earth science degree he writes, “The bedrock of knowledge that Vassar’s geology program prepared me with has vastly tremendously informed my career choices and my success as an educator. The [Earth Science] Department’s ’hands in the earth’ approach to teaching geology has shaped the way I have instructed countless students and teachers since I have graduated.”

Degrees from our department have led several students to successful careers in law. Sarah Morath (’98) followed her Vassar degree in Earth science with a master of environmental studies from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies before attending the University of Montana to study environmental law. She is presently an assistant professor of legal writing at the University of Akron and has published articles on the Endangered Species Act and other environmental legislation.

Kate Wallace (’01) studied law at the University of Southern California after majoring in Earth science at Vassar and presently is a partner in the Jones Day law firm where she specializes in criminal and civil antitrust litigation. Of her education she says, “While I am not practicing geology, I treasure my geology studies at Vassar. I learned how to analyze issues and create practical solutions, as well as write (which is most of what I do now as a lawyer).”

Christopher Argyros (’02) acquired his JD degree from the University of Connecticut and specializes in civil rights for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. He notes that his time in our department “gave [him] a greater perspective on [his] day-to-day work with marginalized populations...”

Seth Schromen-Wawrin (’05) majored in geography at Vassar and went on to acquire a master’s degree in urban planning and management at the University of Aalborg, Denmark. He presently works as the Safe Routes to School Program Manager for the non-profit organization Washington Bikes, in which capacity he manages a statewide bicycle and pedestrian safety program and works with state agencies to promote sustainable methods of transportation.

Eliza Hotchkiss (’01) majored in Earth science and society at Vassar and went on to acquire a master of science degree in energy efficient and sustainable architecture at Oxford University. She presently works for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory designing energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction programs for a variety of federal agencies as well as state and local governments.  

Nathaniel Kimball (’09) develops and implements sustainability initiatives and evaluates climate risk for the five airports operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. In considering how his Vassar education influenced his current career he says, “The breadth and depth of real world topics covered in the department is unrivaled on campus, and is excellent preparation for a career in the energy or environmental fields...Working in the sustainability field requires an understanding of the natural world, which was heavily influenced across the curriculum. Knowledge of climate modeling principles and ESRI ArcGIS has informed my work managing flood risk assessments for our airports. We are mapping future flood risks to critical airport infrastructure that will result from sea level rise. At the same time, we are working with our partners to reduce the greenhouse gas impact of our facilities through the use of aviation biofuels, renewable energy, and much more. The Earth Science and Geography Department at Vassar provides an excellent springboard for an understanding of the big picture resource and practical risks that we face and provides the tools and knowledge needed to address and mitigate those risks.”