Heather Petcovic

Photo of Heather Petcovic
Heather Petcovic
(269) 387-5487
(269) 387-5513
1185 Rood Hall, Mail Stop 5241
Mailing address: 
Geological and Environmental Sciences
Western Michigan University
1903 W Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5241 USA
  • Ph.D., Oregon State University, 2004
  • M.S., Oregon State University, 2000
  • B.A., Smith College, 1995
Research interests: 
  • Teaching and learning geosciences in the field
  • Novice to expert cognition in geologic problem solving
  • Professional development of K-12 earth science teachers
Dr. Heather Petcovic is chair of the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, and holds a joint appointment as a professor in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences and the Mallinson Institute for Science Education.

Petcovic’s research broadly focuses on field-based (outdoor) education and practice. She uses qualitative and mixed methods of research to understand the role of field experience in the transition from student to expert geoscientist. She has served as the principal investigator or co-principal investigator on several research grants from the National Science Foundation. Her work includes:
  • Studying student through expert geoscientists engaged in geologic mapping in order to determine how geological knowledge, spatial ability, mental models and patterns of movement impact problem-solving. 
  • Documenting student conceptions of complex biogeochemical systems in a field-based undergraduate course.
  • Examining the changing role of fieldwork in geoscience workforce preparation and expert perception of fault systems in the field.

Her research leads to both theoretical models of geological cognition and to practical ideas for improved field-based instruction. She also supervises several doctoral and master's students who are conducting research in geoscience education.

Petcovic is active in the preparation and professional development of K-12 earth science teachers. She has been involved with several teacher development projects, most recently as an instructor in the Michigan Teacher Excellence Program at Michigan Technological University. She teaches undergraduate earth science courses for future elementary and secondary science teachers, and graduate courses in science education theory, research and practice. She serves as the departmental advisor for earth science and integrated science secondary education majors, helping to prepare undergraduate students to teach grades six through 12. She is also a faculty advisor for the Michigan Geological Repository for Research and Education's K-12 Earth Science Outreach Program.

Petcovic is an associate editor for research for the Journal of Geoscience Education, and past chair of the Geoscience Education Division of the Geological Society of America. She is a former Distinguished Lecturer for the National Association of Geoscience Teachers.

Recent Publications

  • Petcovic, H. L., Turner, S. P., Geraghty Ward, E., Cartwright, T., LaDue, N., Mogk, D., Bentley, A. P. K., and Her, X. (2016). Geo-Needs: Stakeholder needs assessment for broadening participation in the geoscience workforce (Geo-Needs Focus Group Meetings Report). Available from the Geo-Needs website
  • Petcovic, H. L., Ormand, C. J., and Krantz, R. W. (In press). Earth, mind, and paper: Field sketches as expert representations of the Hat Creek fault zone. In R. W. Krantz, C. J. Ormand, and B. Freeman (Eds), 3-D Structural Interpretation: Earth, Mind, and Machine: AAPG Memoir 111, p. 173-189.
  • Tarampi, M. R., Atit, K., Petcovic, H. L., Shipley, T. F., and Hegarty, M. (In press). Spatial ability in expert geoscientists. In R. W. Krantz, C. J. Ormand, and B. Freeman (Eds), 3-D Structural Interpretation: Earth, Mind, and Machine: AAPG Memoir 111, p.
  • Baker, K. M., *Johnson, A. C., *Callahan, C. N., & Petcovic, H. L. (2016). Use of cartographic images by expert and novice field geologists in planning fieldwork routes. Cartography and Geographic Information Science, 43(2): 176-187. DOI: 10.1080/15230406.2015.1072735

For a more complete list of publications by Dr. Petcovic, please consult her CV or visit ResearchGate.