ACADEMIC PLANNING COUNCIL
Minutes of September 21, 2009
3 p.m., Holmes Student Center – HSC 505
Present: Alden, Cassidy, Dawson, Gorman, Hardwick, Lee, Prawitz, Reynolds, Ye
Guests: Donna Askins, Research Associate, Office of the Provost; Carolinda Douglass, Director, Assessment Services Nick Karonis, Chair, Department of Computer Science; Chris McCord, Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Penny McIntire, Assistant to the Chair, Department of Computer Science; and Jeff Reynolds, Assistant to the Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
The meeting was called to order at 3:05 p.m. It was announced that programs scheduled for review at the November 2 and 9 meetings have been switched at the request of Deb Gough, the subcommittee chair, so that subcommittee B does not present two subcommittee reports in a row. The B.S. in Clinical Laboratory Sciences, B.S. in Health Sciences, and M.P.T. programs will be discussed by the full APC on November 2, and the B.S. in Meteorology and B.A./B.S. and M.S. in Geography programs will be discussed by the full APC at the November 9 meeting. A new subcommittee list and fall schedule was distributed to the APC members.
Chih-Chen Lee from the College of Business was welcomed as a new APC member. Niquella Harkwick has been appointed as the graduate student representative to the APC, and Daniel Matousek has been appointed as the undergraduate student representative to the APC. Daniel Matousek has a class until 4 p.m. on Mondays, so it will be difficult for him to serve on the committee this fall.
It was moved and seconded to approve the minutes of August 31, 2009, and the motion passed unanimously.
Chris McCord, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Jeff Reynolds, Assistant to the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Nick Karonis, Chair of the Department of Computer Science; and Penny McIntire, Assistant to the Chair of the Department of Computer Science were introduced.
The dean and the chair provided an overview of the Department of Computer Science. The department experienced extensive growth in the 1990s; and then after 2000 and the dot.com bust, the department experienced a large drop in enrollment. This was true nationally. The department at NIU was positioned differently than many other computer science programs. There was a long serving chair in the department who retired recently, and there is a new department chair. This has caused a transition in the department. The department has been aligned with the needs of the discipline and employers of computer science graduates. The department is well positioned to move into the next decade, and having a computer science and technology building would be a good thing.
In the late 1970s mainframe computing was really what computer science was all about. Employers were asked what they needed, and the faculty crafted a good curriculum. Then some programs moved to PCs and UNIX systems. The department moved in these directions, but not as strong as some other departments. Two years ago IBM announced its new system Z. Companies still use mainframe computers; it is hard to replace the mainframe. The mainframe drives the work systems and computations. IBM launched an Academic Initiative to press the need for a mainframe curriculum in computer science departments in higher education institutions, and NIU is a member of this initiative.
Aimee Prawitz will present the APC subcommittee report. The members of the subcommittee were thanked for their hard work on the review. The review document was very clearly written with appropriate detail and depth, which made the subcommittee’s work easier. Comparison with other peer and aspiring university programs as well as descriptions of contributions to NIU’s mission are noteworthy.
There were many strengths noted in the department context section. The increasing number of female faculty provides role models for women in the profession. The faculty structure is diverse with 4 women among 12 tenured/tenure-track faculty, and 3 of the 12 faculty represent minority groups. There is substantial external funding. The faculty and instructors exhibit a high level of dedication to student learning and professional development. On average, faculty and TAs offer approximately six hours per week of advising/mentoring. The undergraduate advisor maintains contact with upper classmen to provide guidance in planning coursework and other experiences to assure smooth and timely progress through the program. There is a Research and Development Internship that offers unique opportunities for students to gain hands-on experience and entry into professional positions. These internships also bring in external funding and allow for additional student support. Availability of instrumentation, technology, and library resources meet current faculty and student needs. Recently the programs joined IBM’s Academic Initiative that entitles the department access to the mainframe at Marist College. The development of the NIU Computer Science Alumni Council focuses its efforts on alumni, faculty, and friends of the department with activities such as “networking nights” and presentations to students. Upgrades have been made in the classrooms, and online courses have been developed. Graduates are placed at all levels in a range of corporate and other businesses of excellent caliber, and students get jobs in the field. Diversity in the student population has increased, and program faculty recruit to encourage women students in the programs. The department has excellent curricula that are updated frequently. The curricula provides students access to the breadth and depth of computer science, research projects, internships, extracurricular activities, and job placements. Junior faculty have been particularly active in scholarly activities. The large mainframe computer training program is one of the top programs nationwide.
The chair of the department was asked to talk about mentoring and the hands-on opportunities in the program. The program participates in URAP, which encourages undergraduate students to partner with a faculty member on research. There is also a long-standing program where students work with a company for the summer on a project. Some students enroll in internship credit for these experiences, while other students do not. Students are involved in the new Research and Development Internship that places students at Argonne and Fermi. During the first year of this initiative six students were placed at these laboratories. There are TAs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, independent study courses are offered, and there is a relatively new master’s thesis option. There are a lot of one-on-one opportunities for students to be engaged in hands-on learning, and these opportunities are very applied. Students write a lot of computer science programs, which is almost entirely an individual effort.
The areas for improvement are space and securing additional external funding. All available space is utilized, leaving very little space for faculty research, conference room availability, or student areas. The department has zero lab space for research. Some small offices have been converted for students; some graduate students are housed in Faraday and there is no space for small group discussions outside of the classroom.
There are a couple of recommendations for the future. In the effective practice section of the program review, additional description of the hands-on nature of student learning would be helpful. The department should continue to develop collaborative opportunities with other colleges for multidisciplinary research, increase the level of scholarship and grantsmanship, and continue to revise the assessment plans. A question was asked about how efforts should be directed to increase scholarship and grantsmanship. The response was that the faculty are dedicated from top to bottom to NIU’s teaching mission. When scholarship and grantsmanship is compared to other departments the same size as NIU’s Department of Computer Science, the data show that we can improve. We are trying to get more than we have today. As time goes on, say five to seven years from now, some of the faculty will retire and younger faculty will be hired. This will increase scholarship and grantsmanship because it will be part of the agreement when hiring new faculty.
There were a number of strengths in the B.S. in Computer Science portion of the review. The curriculum is well designed in order to achieve the learning outcomes. Addition of the capstone course provides additional hands-on learning opportunities. Faculty and staff are involved in on-campus recruitment and retention activities. Students are recruited and faculty make efforts to make sure that students complete the degree. Students participate in scholarly work. The Research and Development Internships allow students to work from NIU with supervision from a contracting agency. The department participates in the University Honors Program. The limited admission and retention policy serves to maintain excellence in student performance and outcomes. The program provides an important contribution to the education of non-majors by serving a number of different programs. The program offers a new emphasis within the B.S. in Applied Management. There are measureable outcomes and clear connections between specific courses and learning outcomes. The program enjoys excellent continuing relationships with industry, and graduates are well prepared to learn new technologies throughout their careers as evidenced by employer feedback.
There are a couple of discussion points and areas of improvement mentioned in the subcommittee report. Lower enrollment in the program may be a concern at NIU; however it appears to be a nationwide trend. It is difficult to answer why enrollment decreased. We talk to colleagues about this issue and there has been a panel discussion at a conference, and we cannot come up with an answer to this question. Now the trends seem to have flattened and things are turning around. We don’t know what caused this to occur. We do have a long way to go up. Enrollment will come back to 500 students if we do a good job. Does the department have the same number of faculty that it had when enrollment was a 500? We have far fewer faculty now. A number of faculty retired. The drop in enrollment equalized the pressure between the number of faculty and students. The numbers are going up and we are feeling the pressure already. Soon we will ask to replace the faculty lines we lost. Recruiting strategies have not changed during the time period. Another area for improvement is the desire to increase the number of women in the program. There is a course being taught to attract and retain women in the program. A number of course activities (such as programming assignments, group projects, and capstone projects) could serve as excellent tools for course-embedded assessment. Adding these measures to the assessment of student learning outcomes would provide data to directly assess program outcomes. There are many good things you already measure, but these could be added. Recommendations for the future included: using multiple measures of student learning outcomes; adding course-embedded assessment activities; continuing to seek out opportunities to hire faculty; and pursuing off-campus recruiting opportunities targeting women and minority students. There were many strengths noted in the M.S. in Computer Science section of the review. Students are well prepared for a range of careers in the field and have found employment in numerous highly esteemed agencies and corporate settings. Does IBM hire a lot of your students? Yes, IBM hires a lot of the computer science graduates. The program is cost effective based on comparative programs. The department has developed a new track in the graduate program, enterprise computing, which complements the mainframe program. What we find in industry is that all the heavy lifting is done by the mainframe, but the information is presented through a veneer of web services. Enterprise computing has been tagged on top of the mainframe program. We have a junior faculty member who is a superstar in this area; she has written a text book in this area as well. The program participates in the homeland security certificate and provides courses to support the cyber security track within the homeland security certificate. Does this increase your enrollment numbers? The program is part of the IDEA Alliance which is a statewide agreement where students from other institutions can enroll in courses offered by our institution and receive credit at their home institution. Most of the students in these courses are from other institutions. All of these courses are online, and these courses were already being offered as part of our graduate program. The curriculum is frequently updated to reflect the evolving nature of the field. Graduate students are engaged in hands-on learning experiences. The thesis option, which is new, encourages research in the field. The first successful thesis defense occurred in spring 2009, and there are more students in the pipeline. We did this to try and increase scholarship. Without a Ph.D. program, it is challenging to get students and faculty together to work on research. The master’s thesis was designed to establish a longer-term relationship with a faculty member to do research which benefits the students and jump starts the faculty members’ research. The other option available to students is the comprehensive examination. The pass rate is good on the comprehensive examination; it is well over 90 percent. What is the motivation to take the thesis option? To substitute taking the comprehensive examination, and this gets students involved in research if that is what they want to pursue. Do some graduates go on to Ph.D. programs? That is the plan. This was happening even before we put the thesis option together. There are some very talented undergraduate students who we bring into the program, and then we try to convince them to stay on campus and complete the master’s program. We really do have tremendous research opportunities in this region. Do you encourage your students to publish and or copyright their work? We do, and usually students have an idea that is applied, and then they generate performance data that can be presented at a conference. Sometimes these students actually present the paper at the conference themselves. Two undergraduate students were co-authors on conference papers. The program has high graduation rates with almost all students passing the comprehensive examination on the first attempt.
There are a couple of areas for improvement: continue to develop the assessment plan to design student outcomes in measurable terms; pursue external funding and increase the level of scholarship; and increase the number of “native” students in the program. The department only offers research assistantships for externally funded research projects. Right now there are about 30 teaching assistantships offered.
Recommendations for the future are to continue to recruit, specifically female students and “native” students and to review workload policy and structure toward increasing scholarship and grantsmanship.
Can the department give some examples of different learning outcomes for the undergraduate and graduate programs? You won’t find someone who receives a bachelor’s degree being hired as a systems administrator. These graduates get jobs where they join a team honed in running local practices at a corporation. After they learn the software product lifecycle, they start receiving promotions. It is a question of leadership and breadth of responsibilities. Having the title of database administrator is a lot of responsibility. Even graduate students when they first graduate are not getting this type of position, but they are prepared to do this in the future.
Are you expecting many students to enroll in the computer science emphasis within the B.S. in Applied Management? It is a degree that spans multiple units in the university and has a business core. After students take the business core they take courses in one of two emphases: computer science or public safety. This degree is intended to address the needs of community college students who have already received an A.A.S. degree. The plan is to offer these courses next semester at Rock Valley. How many students will enroll? I don’t know, but I am told that there is interest in this program. There is also an expectation that the number of partner institutions and the number of emphases across the university will continue to increase. Students apply to a specific emphasis. Each emphasis is very focused for people holding an A.A.S. degree in specific disciplines. I imagine many students will have been in the workforce for awhile and then realize that in order to work into a management position they need a bachelor’s degree.