Department of Geology

As the world faces declining natural resources (including potable water and food), climate change, and an increasing population, a geology major provides particularly salient training to address these issues. Additionally, geology majors leave Cornell able to pursue a wide variety of careers within and outside of the sciences.

Field study and research

Field experiences are critical to learning geology. Cornell's One Course At A Time allows us to include field trips in almost every course and to dedicate an entire block of specialized field study courses. We also engage our students in a variety of research project, often connected to the wide-ranging interests of our faculty.


Cornell's geology department was the first in Iowa, and we are the only liberal arts college in Iowa to offer a four-year degree in geology.


Many students choose to major in geology because they are interested in the environment and wish to take advantage of the numerous opportunities to study geology beyond the traditional classroom. Few students entering Cornell have had any exposure to geology; many of our majors “discover” geology after their first or second (and, occasionally third) year at Cornell. Our program is sufficiently flexible to allow enthusiastic “latecomers” to complete the requirements for the geology major or minor.

Field Courses

We believe strongly in a hands-on approach to learning science, and Cornell's One Course At A Time schedule allows us to include field opportunities in nearly every course, whether for a day or an entire block. Read more about our field course opportunities.

Entry-level Courses

We offer a variety of entry-level courses, including Physical Geology, Climate Change, Marine Science, Earth Science, and Investigations in Geology. At least one of these courses is taught in nearly all eight terms of the academic year, and all satisfy the college science requirement. Most of these courses emphasize how human land use affects geological processes and vice versa, and they underscore the importance of proper land management.

Majors & Minors

We offer a basic curriculum of upper-level courses that, along with supporting coursework in other sciences and mathematics, prepare our graduates for entry-level occupations in government and industry, or for graduate-level education. Our curriculum also prepares students who choose careers in earth science teaching.


We encourage our students to study on-site with professional geologists through internship opportunities. For example, our students have studied volcanic processes with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) at Mount St. Helens and in Hawaii; petroleum exploration methods with oil companies in Oklahoma and Texas; land and soil management with the Natural Resources Conservation Service; water resources with the USGS in eastern Iowa; and energy resources with Alliant Energy. These internships not only enhance the education of our students but also have opened doors of opportunity to them in graduate research and professional employment.

Environmental Studies

In concert with departments ranging from biology to politics, we administer an environmental studies program. Several of our courses, including Climate Change, Geology of the National Parks, Marine Science, and Environmental Geology are important components of environmental studies.

Geology Research

The geology faculty at Cornell College believes that involving students in independent research is an essential component of an undergraduate’s education. All geology faculty members maintain active, externally-funded research programs that provide numerous opportunities for student involvement.

In addition to in-depth study of a particular geologic topic, research experiences allow students to develop critical skills essential to any career. A “capstone” research experience is required for students majoring in geology.

Student symposium & conference presentations

Our students regularly present the results of their research at regional and national professional meetings, at which they may begin to network with professional geologists and environmental scientists. The annual Cornell Student Symposium provides another venue for research presentations, and recent examples of student projects are outlined on our symposium page. You will find further project descriptions in the most recent edition of Sparks From the Rockpile, our department newsletter.

Student Research Fund

The geology department administers the Hendriks Student Research Fund that supports students who travel to conduct research or attend professional meetings to present their results. The fund also provides stipends to students who work on their projects over the summer. Recent research projects have been conducted in Greece, Norway, Western Australia, New Mexico, Portugal, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Missouri, and Iowa.

Careers in Geology

Many of our graduates have continued their study of geology in graduate school at places like the University of Chicago, Vanderbilt University, the University of New Mexico, and Arizona State University, and have started their careers with an M.S. degree. Our alumni currently work in the oil, gas and other extractive industries, state and federal agencies (including the EPA and national park service), environmental consulting firms, energy companies and water resource management firms.

According to the American Geological Institute, average starting salaries for newly-minted geology graduates in 2007 varied by degree and employment sector. The average annual salary of graduates with a bachelors degree was $31,366 (typically in entry-level environmental and hydrology positions). M.S. degree holders earned a median salary of $82,500 (oil & gas) or $45,500 (environmental firms, all government positions). Doctorates in the geosciences earned an average of $72,600.

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This course is Campus based
Start Date
Sep 2020
4 years
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