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Courses and Curriculum

The Master of Science in Applied Geosciences (MSAG) degree is structured to give you a well-rounded grounding in applied scientific knowledge, as well as to train you in the project management and leadership skills necessary to effectively put that knowledge into action in the field. To that end, the curriculum is structured with a combination of foundation courses and concentration electives, which allow you to focus on topics best suited to your interests and goals.

The MSAG requires the completion of 12 course units (c.u.)* as follows:

  • Seven foundation courses
  • Three electives in a professional concentration
  • Project Management
  • Project Design thesis

Foundation courses (7 c.u.)

Foundation courses help deepen your knowledge in core, applied geoscience topics outside of your chosen concentration. Every project in the geosciences — whether choosing the best site for a new bridge, developing storm water solutions for a city or helping to restore damaged wetlands — requires mastery in the areas covered by the Foundation courses. In order to become a leading problem-solver in the geosciences, you need to be able to draw on scientific knowledge from many aspects of the geosciences and be equipped with a wide variety of tools that help you apply this knowledge effectively.

Two required foundation courses:

  • Applied and Environmental Geophysics
  • Introduction to Hydrology           

One course must be taken in each of the following five Foundation areas:

Subject area Courses
  • Geochemistry (hard rock chemistry)
  • Elemental Cycling in Global Systems
  • Aqueous Geochemistry
  • Fundamentals of Air Pollution
Engineering Geology
  • Engineering Geology: Rock Mechanics
  • Engineering Geology: Surficial Materials & Processes
  • Interpretation of Near-surface Geologic Structure for Engineering and Environmental Geology
Ground Water Hydrology
  • Fate and Transport of Pollutants
  • Geochemical Modeling
  • Environmental Groundwater Hydrology
  • Geocomputations I
  • Geostatistics
  • Geomechanics: Solids
  • Geomechanics: Fluids

Professional concentration courses (3 c.u.)

While Foundation courses provide the structure you need to be successful in any geosciences field, your professional concentration courses allow you to develop specific expertise and also signify your mastery of a field to potential employers.

You will choose three elective courses within your area of professional concentration. These concentration courses allow you to acquire the skills and the critical perspective necessary to master an applied geosciences subdiscipline, and will help prepare you to pursue the final Project Design exercise (below). The selection of concentration courses have been carefully chosen and developed by members of the geosciences faculty.  

You may choose from the following concentrations:

Individualized professional concentration option

Occasionally a student’s interests do not fit within one of the three Master of Science in Applied Geosciences concentrations. If you find this is the case, you may develop an individualized concentration under the supervision of a faculty advisor. Your proposed concentration must be approved by the Program Director and the Faculty Committee.

Most students who select the Individualized concentration option are planning to pursue a doctoral degree or plan to teach geosciences at the high school level. These individuals require advanced courses in Mineralogy, Stratigraphy, Paleontology, Structural Geology and Petrology.

Project Management (1 c.u.)

Whether you intend to work in the consulting field, the government sector or plan to pursue a PhD, project management skills will be invaluable toward your success after graduation. We’ve partnered with the prestigious faculty of Penn’s Organizational Dynamics program to bring you a course designed to teach you innovative best practices for project leadership. The class provides an overview of the concepts, procedures and fundamental processes of project management, including effective tools, techniques and standards of practice. Our Organizational Project Management course helps you prepare to lead with confidence as you advance in your career.

Project Design (1 c.u.)

The Project Design exercise is a distinguishing feature of the Master of Science in Applied Geosciences program, blending academic and professional experiences and serving as the culmination of your work in the program. You will develop a project drawing from your learning inside and outside of the classroom to demonstrate mastery of an area in the geosciences.

The subject of this project is related to your professional concentration and may be selected to complement or further develop a work-related interest. It’s an opportunity to showcase your specialization, your expertise and your unique perspective within the field. 

The year-long Project Design exercise demonstrates your proficiency in critical professional practice which includes the ability to:

  • Identify a geotechnical, hydrologic or environmental problem or issue that would be encountered in professional practice.
  • Design a protocol.
  • Acquire the data necessary to clarify, if not resolve, the question.
  • Critically assess the quality of the data acquired.
  • Draw defensible conclusions from those data.
  • Communicate this process and conclusions to professional colleagues with clarity and precision.

You will work with two Project Advisors who will act as supervisors for the Project Design. One advisor will be drawn from the faculty in the Department of Earth & Environmental Science, and the other may be from the University or be an industry expert. Advisors are identified in the second semester of the program in the Project Design Seminar class.

Certifications and licensure

Our rigorous coursework also provides the academic depth needed for licensure as a Professional Geologist (PG) in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. When you complete the degree, your “professional geological work” requirement is shortened from five years to four.

We also subsidize and streamline certification programs like OSHA’s Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard (HAZWOPER), bringing the test to campus for you.

Field opportunities

Experiences in the field, such as class trips and site visits, are critical components of the curriculum. You will also have the opportunity to participate in research projects being conducted by members of the Department of Earth & Environmental Science. These projects will provide you with experience working with geoscience professionals in the field, and will involve training in the use of relevant instrumentation, as well as data collection and analysis techniques. 

Time frame

Master of Science in Applied Geosciences students may enroll on either a part-time or full-time basis. Your time to graduation will vary depending on how many classes you take each semester and whether you take summer classes. Full-time students can complete the program in two years, taking three or four classes per semester. Part-time students typically complete their work in three years, taking one or two classes per semester. Individuals working full time are advised to take no more than two courses per term.

Transferring graduate credits

Incoming students may petition to transfer up to two graduate-level credits from classes completed prior to their admission at Penn. Students seeking transfer credit should fill out a form after they matriculate into the program, to the Program Director before the end of their first semester at Penn. A transfer credit form is available on the program’s Canvas Community site, which is accessible to current students only. Transfer credit is evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the Faculty Advisory Committee.

*Academic credit is defined by the University of Pennsylvania as a course unit (c.u.). A course unit (c.u.) is a general measure of academic work over a period of time, typically a term (semester or summer). A c.u. (or a fraction of a c.u.) represents different types of academic work across different types of academic programs and is the basic unit of progress toward a degree. One c.u. is usually converted to a four-semester-hour course.

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