University General Course Catalog 2022-2023 
    Jan 27, 2023  
University General Course Catalog 2022-2023

Geological Engineering, M.S.

The program is designed to enhance students’ professional abilities in engineering and the geological sciences. Although often equated with geotechnical engineering, a discipline closely aligned with civil engineering, geological engineering is more correctly characterized as a program focused on geologic hazards mitigation and natural resources characterization. 

In one sense, geological engineering is a form of environmental engineering. The MS program emphasizes the professional nature of the geological engineering discipline. Consequently, students are required to be excellent in both geology and engineering core subjects. If they are deficient in the core courses they must be taken. Geological engineering plays a vital role in engineering with natural materials (rock, soil, water and even snow). Geological engineers are unlike other engineers who use manmade materials like steel, concrete, asphalt and composites to design and construct. Geological engineers are intimately involved with our environment in assessing and designing ways to alleviate the effects of geologic hazards like landslides, earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruptions or by mitigating or mediating potential man-made hazards including contaminated ground water and poorly sited landfills. They design foundations for structures, tunnels and open pits for large excavations. Geological engineers design facilities for mitigating the flow of groundwater pollution, for the location of sanitary municipal landfills and for the storage of hazardous waste.

Today, there is a critical national need for geological engineers in the heavy construction industry, the minerals industry, the energy industry, and for fundamental research at national laboratories. On graduating, a GE is capable of being professionally registered as an engineer on passing the relevant State Examinations.

Contact Information

Stacia Gordon, Ph.D., Graduate Program Director
Department of Geological Sciences and Engineering
Department Office: (775) 784-6476​

Mailing Address:

University of Nevada, Reno
Department of Geological Sciences and Engineering, Mail Stop 0172
1664 North Virginia Street
Reno, NV 89557

Graduate Handbook

Program Objectives/Student Learning Outcomes

  • For MSGE students entering the program with non-engineering undergraduate degrees, students will learn the fundamental core engineering curriculum to enable the taking and passing of the Fundamentals of Engineering exam.
  • MSGE students will learn better written and oral communication skills through teaching and/or professional presentations.
  •  MSGE students will learn written communication skills commensurate with successful publication in scientific journals, writing a thesis or professional paper, and/or presenting a conference paper orally or in poster session.
  • MSGE students will learn to be self-starters in their studies and research.
  • MSGE students will learn diligence through timely degree completion.

Admission Requirements

Students must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university to be accepted as a graduate student. For full graduate standing, at least 30 units of undergraduate work in geology and/or related fields must have been completed.

  • To be considered for admission, students must meet the following minimum university requirements:
  • Grade-point average (GPA): Four-year undergraduate GPA of 2.75 for applicants to a M.S. degree program, or 3.0 GPA for a Ph.D. degree program.

Minimum TOEFL score (if applicable): 550, with scores sent directly to the university. Note that 600 is recommended because students below a 600 must then pass a bridge test upon entering the university.

For admission to the Department of Geological Sciences and Engineering, prospective students must also submit the following:

  • Three letters of recommendation certifying ability to perform graduate-level work at the desired level (M.S. or Ph.D.);
  • A one or two page personal statement of interest stating why UNR is their school of choice, why they wish to pursue the desired degree (M.S. or Ph.D.), and what specialties and/or faculty the applicant is interested in; and
  • Copies of transcripts and TOEFL scores (if applicable).

The Admissions Committee gives comparable weight to each item submitted as part of the application package. An applicant will not be denied admission based solely on their GPA. It is advisable for applicants to contact prospective faculty advisors to discuss their interests prior to applying. 

Application Deadlines and Addresses

For Fall semester admission, complete applications (i.e., the items listed above) must be submitted online with any supporting documents and received by the Graduate School by January 1 for Fall and September 15 for Spring admissions. Official transcripts should be sent directly to the UNR Graduate School to arrive well before these stated deadlines. The applicant’s personal statement and letters of recommendation, if not uploaded via the online application, should be sent to:

University of Nevada, Reno
Graduate School, Mail Stop 0326
Reno, NV 89557-0326

I. Program Requirements

Students may enter this program with undergraduate degrees in geology, engineering or related fields. Specialized classes can be taken in geological sciences, geological engineering, hydrogeology, geophysics, and civil and mining engineering. A cooperative geotechnical program exists with the civil engineering department. Most students complete thesis work in rock slope instability processes, rock mass characterization and design, geostatistics, remote sensing, computer modeling of rock deformation, rock fracture mechanics, geomechanics, planetary geomechanics, and waste containment.

A non-thesis option is available in particular cases for professionals to strengthen their background in geological engineering.

In addition to UNR Graduate School  M.S. requirements, the program requires the following course work:

A. Thesis Option (31 units)

It is important to understand that earning a graduate degree involves much more than just completing a fixed number of graduate classes.  The student’s Advisory/Examining Committee may require the student to take additional courses if, in its opinion, training or background is needed to reach the degree of proficiency typical of others holding this degree in the student’s chosen field of specialization.  The number of classes required by the Graduate School is really a minimum, because the amount of preparation a student needs for thesis research varies considerably across departments and specialties.

1. Comprehensive Examination (1 unit)

2. Seminar (3 units)

The Graduate Seminar is required of all students entering MS. and Ph.D. programs in Geology, Geophysics, and the M.S. in Geologic Engineering.  Master’s students must enroll a minimum of 3 semesters. Graduate seminar is a forum for faculty and students from UNR and other organizations to present information on cutting edge topics in the geological sciences.  The seminar schedule varies each semester.

3. Thesis (10 units)

4. Additional Coursework (17 units)

Course selection will be determined in conjunction with your advisor, committee, and the program graduate director.

Examples of possible courses include:

M.S. Examinations

Two examinations are required for the M.S. degree, Thesis Option.

Comprehensive Examination

In their second semester, MS students will be required to sign up for one credit of MS Comps (GEOL 795), under the direction of the Graduate Director.  The MS Comp Exam consists of two requirements: 1) a formal thesis proposal including a presentation of the proposed research; and 2) approval of your Program of Study. Students are required to submit a formal thesis proposal to their committee and have a committee meeting to discuss both the proposal and their proposed Program of Study prior to the end of their second semester in residence (does not include summer semester). Both must be approved by their committee and forwarded to the Graduate Director to enable the Director to provide a grade (S/U) for the student.  Failure to complete this requirement in the allotted time will result in the student being dropped from the program.  Under extenuating circumstances, the student may petition for an extension, but any petition must be approved by their thesis committee before it will be considered by the Graduate Director.

Final oral examination.

A final Oral Examination (Thesis defense, announced two weeks in advance and open to the public including a public presentation) is held with the Advisory-Examining Committee to evaluate the quality and professional standards of the student’s research.  After successfully completing this examination and approval of the final draft of the thesis, the student is advanced to Master’s candidacy and may apply for graduation. The thesis defense is usually about 2 hours long and consists of a public talk (~30 – 45 min) followed by a closed session with the committee where questions are asked and specific recommendations/revisions are suggested for the thesis. The thesis defense should be scheduled in a venue that can sufficiently accommodate the audience (usually 30 or more people).

B. Non-Thesis Option (30 units)

The Department of Geological Sciences does not normally offer the M.S. non-thesis option, but a non-thesis M.S. option is available upon special petition. The non-thesis option is considered a terminal degree and is not recommended for students considering a future Doctoral degree. To pursue a non-thesis M.S., the student must first discuss this option with their advisor and committee. If the advisor and committee deem the non-thesis M.S. to be an appropriate option, the advisor will then submit a memo petitioning the Graduate Committee within the first semester.

For the non-thesis M.S., a minimum of 30 course units is required with at least 15 units at the 700-level.

1. Professional Paper (2 units)

The Professional Paper will demonstrate the student’s ability to integrate technical state-of the-art knowledge into a document suitable for professional review and publication. Topics may be of an applied nature and must be approved by the student’s Graduate Committee. Format and content of the Professional Paper should be commensurate with those found in professional society proceedings, regional/national symposia and conferences, applied science and resource management journals, and other journals serving as a forum for scientific discussion. The student must also meet with their committee by the end of their 2nd semester. During this meeting, the student will provide a draft summary of what will be included within the Professional Paper. This summary should be circulated to the committee a few weeks in advance of the committee meeting.


Program of Study

Students must file an approved Program of Study with the Graduate School near the end of the second semester of residence (the specific date is the same as the “thesis due date” for students finishing their studies).

Time Limits

All requirements for this degree must be completed within six calendar years preceding conferral of the degree.

Academic Progress

A minimum of 30-31 units of acceptable graduate courses (grade of “C” or better and listed on the Program of Study) must be completed. A maximum of 9 units completed elsewhere (Grade “B” or better) may be transferred and applied to the M.S. degree at UNR.  Eighteen units must be in the major field of study.  The overall grade point average for graduate classwork must be maintained above 3.0.  Students who fall below 3.0, are placed on academic probation, and allowed one semester to bring their grades up to 3.0 or above.  Failure to meet this standard will result in the student being dismissed from the program. See Program of Study Requirements for additional details about requirements.

II. Total Units (30-31 units)