JMU’s earth science program is hoping to reduce the statewide shortage of science teachers.

On Monday, Jan. 13, Eric Pyle, a professor from the earth science department, accepted the Virginia Mathematics and Science Coalition Programs that Work award on behalf of JMU’s earth science program.

The event was held at the Library of Virginia, in Richmond.

The award recognizes exemplary programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics that show evidence of a positive impact on student or teacher learning.

Pyle started the program in 2006 and has taught at JMU for nine years.

“It was initially started to solve a need or a problem, that was a critical shortage of earth science teachers in Virginia, and it expanded to include a wider range of professions,” Pyle said.

The Virginia Mathematics and Science Coalition awarded 11 programs in total. This included two elementary schools, one middle school, two high schools, two school districts, one college, four universities and one consortium.

Other universities that won include Randolph College in Lynchburg, Va., and Virginia Commonwealth University.

JMU’s earth science program was chosen for this award for several reasons according to Fred Hoffman, president of the VMSC.

“We are trying to encourage science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs that encourage more learning by inquiry, hands-on processes and effective evaluation,” Hoffman said. “JMU’s Bachelor of Arts in earth science program reflects all of those changes for students at the undergraduate level. That is not typical.”

There are about 30 students in the earth science program at JMU.

Chris Gates, a junior earth science major, believes that the program is special because of the technology it incorporates.

“The technology is one of a kind, especially for this state. I don’t think there’s any other program in the United States — to be honest — that has the science on the sphere technology, which is a projector that projects a sphere in the middle of the room,” Gates said.

The sphere technology is used to visualize satellite imagery of weather using Google Earth. Other technology that is being used includes microscopes and chemistry labs. The earth science students also participate in hands-on opportunities like field trips to examine exposed rock.

Gates claims he chose the earth science program because it allowed him to focus on meteorology.

“Meteorology is what attracted me,” Gates said. “With earth science, it opens you up to the atmosphere and more of the oceans, and not just landforms and land masses.”

Pyle said he hopes the future of the program continues to help Virginia.

“I would hope that it continues to be successful and also to evolve as the needs of the Commonwealth and the students evolve as well,” Pyle said. “It certainly has the framework to being responsive to those needs, but it also addresses critical issues of how people understand the earth.”

Contact Kelsey Beckett at