The History of the Department of Geosciences

Geology courses have been offered at the Agricultural College of Utah since its earliest years in the late 19th century. Then, in 1896, less than a decade into our school's history, the Department of Instruction in Geology and Mineralogy was formed. Only a very few faculty comprised the department until the post-World War II generation returned to college, growing both our department and the newly-named Utah State University. Geosciences remains a modest-sized department, but we have grown steadily, now with twice the number of faculty we had 20 years ago.



Students on hill
USU Geosciences field trip, c. 1900 ~ photo courtesy of USU Archives

Our department was housed for many decades in USU's Old Main building. In 1989, after renovation, the former Plant Industry Building on the University's central Quad was renamed the Geology Building, and Geology moved across the grass, rocks in tow. In 2018, our historic Geology Building celebrated its 100th anniversary.


Old Plant Industry Building
USU Plant Industry Building, 1921 ~ photo courtesy of USU Archives


An important early figure of the department was J. Stewart Williams, who published the first map of the Logan Quadrangle in 1948, defining much of the local Paleozoic stratigraphy exposed in mountain backdrop. For 32 years spanning the early-middle 20th century, Williams served as Department Head while also working as the Graduate Dean for much of that time. The gruff Clyde T. Hardy was then Department Head for 15 of the post-war growth years, advised many graduate students, and was a champion of our field-oriented tradition. Don Fiesinger succeeded Hardy in overseeing major transformations in the department over the decades and the move to the Geology Building. Don was Department Head for 18 years until he became Dean of the College of Science in 2000 and continuing until his retirement.

Here in the 21st Century, the Geo Department has continued to grow in faculty and programs. During the 2000-2010 years that John Shervais served as Department Head, we added our PhD and MS-Applied Environmental graduate programs. That started an ongoing trjectory of increasing research capabilities and personnel, which continued through Dave Liddell's tenure as Department Head from 2010-2016, and on to the present day.


Geo sign with building
Historic building sign with the Geology Building in the back, 2019