Certification of Environmental Scientists and Accreditation of Geology Programs

The NSPE Licensure and Qualifications for Practice (L&QP) Committee was recently asked to provide an opinion on the appropriateness of a proposal by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers to certify environmental scientists. AAEE has historically provided a post-licensure certification of environmental engineers requiring documentation of environmental engineering education, additional experience beyond licensure, passing of either a written or oral examination given by AAEE, and documentation of continuing professional development.

AAEE is considering expanding its certifications to include environmental scientists, including geologists and chemists. Geologists are licensed as professional geologists in 29 states currently; chemists are not licensed. The NSPE L&QP Committeevoiced its oppositionto this proposal on the basis of four concerns, which have yet to be addressed:
1. The delineation of the practice of engineering and geology needs to be clearly defined.
2. Certifying scientists under the American Academy of Environmental Engineers would be confusing to the public. A name change would be in order.
3. The academic backgrounds of geologists and chemists could not be reasonably assessed on an equal footing with engineering because their programs are not ABET accreditedand very different and variable in form and content.
4. Engineering certifications should be post-licensure in NSPE’s view. Geologists are not licensed in 21 states and chemists are not licensed at all.

The main point of this blog posting is about item 3, accreditation. In researching this issue, the L&QP members reviewed a paper entitled “An Analysis of the Bachelor of Science in Geology Degree as Offered in the United States,” by Drummond and Markin. Of 278 geology departments surveyed, the number of required courses “in the geology core” varied from four or less to more than 15. The number of basic math and science courses showed a similar variation. The academic requirements vary all over the place. A bachelor’s degree in geology may or may not be what students, state boards, or employers expect. The devil is in the details.

Geology programs are not currently accredited by ABET, as are engineering programs in the U.S. They could be accredited under the ABET Applied Science Accreditation Commission (ASAC), and there have been preliminary discussions among ABET and some geological societies about the possibility of initiating accreditation programs for geology. Geology programs are typically in universities that hold regional general accreditations, but these are not nearly as specific and discipline-rigorous as ABET accreditation.

Take this for what very little it may be worth, as it is the unsolicited opinion of an environmental engineer.

Geologists should consider having academic programs accredited. That can be at the baccalaureate level, the master’s level, or both. It could apply to environmental geology, petroleum geology, and perhaps other areas of geology practice. Here is the list of those who would substantially benefit from having academic programs in geology accredited: future geologists, firms that hire geologists, state boards of licensure of professional geologists, the Association of State Boards of Geology (ASBOG), the geology profession, academic programs in geology (all of which would have a new focus on continuous improvement), and the public. Accreditation has a great deal of upside for the profession and the public, and little downside.

The author is a Board Certified Environmental Engineer and a member of the ABET Board of Directors.

Editorial input was provided by Bernard Berson, P.E., F.NSPE, and L. Robert Smith, P.E., F.NSPE.

Published June 20, 2011 by Craig Musselman, P.E., F.NSPE

Filed under: Specialty Certification, Accreditation, geology, Environmental Science,

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The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of and should not be attributable to the National Society of Professional Engineers.