Minutes of October 26, 2009
3 p.m., Holmes Student Center HSC 505


Present: Alden, Brantley, Cassidy, Erman, Falkoff, Goldblum, Gorman, Gough, Hardwick, Jung, Lee, Novak, Otieno, Prawitz

Guests: Donna Askins, Research Associate, Office of the Provost; Colin Booth, Chair, Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences; Carolinda Douglass, Director, Office of Assessment Services; Janice Hamlet, Department of Communication; Chris McCord, Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Jeff Reynolds, Assistant to the Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

The meeting was called to order at 3 p.m. It was moved and seconded to approve the minutes of October 6, 2009, and the motion passed unanimously.

Janice Hamlet from the Department of Communication and a participant in the University Leadership Initiative was introduced. Also, Chris McCord, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Jeff Reynolds, Assistant to the Dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Colin Booth, Chair of the Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences were introduced. The APC has three new members: Helen Brantley Chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning, Myoungwhon Jung from the Department of Teaching and Learning, and Marc Falkoff from the College of Law (replacing Dan Reynolds).

An updated membership list and a listing of interim and follow-up reports were distributed. These items replace the items in the APC notebook in the “Committee” section.

The dean and chair thanked the subcommittee members and provided an overview for the programs in the Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences. The department has exhibited substantial growth in a couple of important areas. There has been some high profile, ongoing research projects in global climate change focused on Antarctica. The undergraduate program has seen some significant growth; the environmental component is an important factor in the growth of the department. The faculty have been instrumental in advancing a proposed institute for environmental and energy studies that will be a multidisciplinary effort. The department is well positioned in many ways, except for the building/facilities.

The meeting was turned over to Deborah Gough for the presentation of the subcommittee report. The document was complete, comprehensive, and well written. There are many opportunities for students to be involved in hands-on learning.

There are many departmental strengths. The department has substantial laboratories with much equipment that has been purchased, but there are problems with the ability to maintain the equipment. Several years ago the department established the Analytical Center for Climate and Environmental Change, and it has generated quite a bit of external funding. The center provides another opportunity for students to be involved in hands-on research. The faculty generated over $12 million in external funding during the review period. Faculty are very active in scholarship; they have authored or co-authored 80 refereed journal articles or book chapters and presented at 90 conference proceedings. Students are involved in numerous engaged learning opportunities beyond the classroom setting. Faculty manage a substantial teaching load, and faculty contributions are interdisciplinary in many ways (teaching, research, and grantsmanship). The department makes an impressive contribution to the general education program.  The computers and internet access have been upgraded in the laboratories and classrooms, and program costs are below the statewide averages.

The council turned to the discussion points for the departmental context section. There is a lack of minority students in the undergraduate program. The department is recruiting students across the board, but they are focusing recruitment efforts at the undergraduate level. The department needs additional faculty because of the increase in student enrollment and faculty retirements. A high priority is obtaining a “clean room” for research purposes. A technician is needed to maintain the laboratory equipment. Some building issues have already been discussed.

Recommendations for the future include continuing the department’s recruiting activities to obtain better minority representation within the student body, hiring additional faculty so faculty research productivity is not impacted by higher enrollments, and developing an advisory board. The advisory board was envisioned to have alumni on it, but the department could also consider representatives from area businesses and industries. These individuals would be able to talk about student strengths and the skill sets needed for employment. The department will look at developing an advisory board this coming semester. One recommendation for the future that will be seen throughout the report is to continue to develop the assessment plans.

How does the recommendation of increasing the size of the faculty fit with college priorities? The college is currently moving through a process that will help it determine the appropriate size for each department. The previous chair of the department provided an analysis for making a rough estimate for faculty effort. If resources were available, the program should continue to grow. Now resources are a limiting constraint; evaluating geology’s need to grow in comparison to others’ needs within the college becomes more difficult. The shift to environmental studies may add an additional pressure and/or opportunity for the department to grow.

The university will not be seeking permanent center status for the Analytical Center for Climate and Environmental Change (ACCEC). The center was established as a unit in conjunction with the research facilities in the department. It was a facility-based center. The specific functions of the center will probably come under the core users’ facilities model or as a subunit within a proposed institute for environmental and energy studies. The ACCEC was set up as a developmental unit to establish equipment and facilities as a basis for further funding, and it served that purpose. It will be necessary to maintain technical support for the laboratories and equipment.

Is there a plan for recruiting more women? The geosciences field has traditionally been a male only area. Over the last few decades, more and more women have entered the field. Nationally the field is about 40 percent women. There are 50 graduate students and 90+ undergraduate students in our programs. In the later part of the program review period there was a drop in the number of women students enrolled in the program. Nationally the number of minority students in the geosciences is very low. In 2004, nationally 6 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in geosciences were awarded to minorities (less than 3 percent to African-Americans), and African-Americans accounted for less than 1 percent of the Ph.D.s awarded nationally. From 1999-2004 there were 42 geosciences Ph.D.s awarded nationally to African-Americans. The department is not in a strong position to recruit minority faculty due to the small supply in the discipline and strong competitive offers from other institutions. Where the department can be most effective is to encourage minorities to enter at the undergraduate level. Is the field camp requirement a road block for students? This is not a road block for students, and there is scholarship support for students to participate in the field camps. The recruitment issue is that entering students are not familiar with the subject. Most students find geosciences either at community colleges or once they come to NIU. The earth science education emphasis has helped us enter the high school environment and gives students some introduction to the field prior to applying for college.

The B.S. in Geology and Environmental Geosciences program has many strengths. The program was restructured into three emphases: traditional geology, environmental geosciences, and earth science education. This has led to an increase in enrollment. Most of the earth science education graduates remain in teaching positions within Illinois. Students are involved in scholarly work and have participated in the Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program and other research. Many students have received awards. All undergraduates participate in a capstone experience. Students are required to take the summer field camps either in applied geosciences field methods or in geological field mapping; teacher certification students participate in the student teaching practica. Approximately 40 percent of the undergraduates pursue graduate study, but there is a growing job market for students who graduate with a B.S. degree. Geology is considered one of the fastest growth science fields. Many students go into environmental industries. B.S. graduates can go directly into entry-level professional jobs. In order to sit for the Professional Geologist examination individuals must possess a bachelor’s degree and four years of supervised experience in the field. Credit hour production has increased while program costs have gone down during the review period. The department is exploring the development of an advisory board, and the assessment plan is being utilized.

Discussion points/areas for improvement include continue recruitment efforts and utilize alumni in program development. There is also a concern about faculty teaching at maximum capacity. The program needs to focus on maintaining faculty numbers. The infrastructure and facilities are problematic.

Recommendations for the future are to increase the number of faculty, recruit women and minority students, and develop an advisory board.

There are many strengths in the M.S. in Geology program. Students are very active in faculty research and have opportunities to be involved in national and international experiences at professional conferences. NIU’s program has the largest enrollment for public universities in Illinois. Faculty are highly active in research with strong publication and grant records, and several faculty are Presidential Research Professors. The program provides service to non-majors, including a certificate of graduate study in environmental geosciences. The Department of Geography is also involved in the certificate. The certificate was started in 1990 to provide courses for professionals in the industry. At that time there was a lot of movement between geosciences industries. Now the certificate is not as active because of demographics in the industry (most entering graduates already have some course background) and because of other demands on faculty time. The department would like to move in the direction of offering online courses. Students complete a thesis, and employment of graduates is high. Credit hour production increased by more than 80 percent during the review period, yet the program costs are low.

Discussion points are the time for degree completion, the high student/faculty ratio, the need for additional faculty, the need for facilities and infrastructure to support the research equipment and a technician, and the assessment plan. It takes students an average of 3.5 years to graduate with the master’s degree in geology, and changes in the financial aid procedures have made it more difficult for master’s students to receive financial aid over the whole course of their program. The program is very rigorous, and the completion times are long. Many students write a research thesis that approaches a Ph.D. dissertation in its thoroughness, and because of field and laboratory work it takes most students longer than a year to complete their research. Thus, the third year of the program is when students usually are writing their theses, and between the second and third year is when the assistantships run out and students often move into a working, part-time student status. The department is looking at how to improve this situation by streamlining program processes such as advising and thesis timelines. The learning outcomes for the M.S. and Ph.D. programs were basically the same; there needs to be different outcomes for the two programs.

Recommendations for the future are similar to those already mentioned. The only additional recommendation is to closely monitor the time to degree completion.

The council turned to the review of the Ph.D. in Geology program. The program has a strong emphasis on research, especially original, independent research. The external evaluations of dissertations were highly positive and complimentary. Students are very productive conference-wise. Graduates of the Ph.D. program were employed in teaching, research, and governmental positions. All students complete an internship experience with the exception of students who have already worked in the industry. Teaching assistants have the opportunity to teach undergraduate courses and to teach in laboratory settings. Enrollment is limited by the number of assistantships and the faculty’s ability to supervise students’ research. The research productivity and grant funding records are very high. Faculty teaching loads are somewhat higher in comparison to faculty teaching loads at other public universities. Credit hour production is also higher than at other public universities.

Discussion points include the low number of minority and women students in the program, faculty teaching loads and research responsibilities, the follow-up survey, and the learning outcomes. The department is looking at hopefully adding faculty. The learning outcomes in the assessment plan need to be differentiated from the M.S. learning outcomes. The facilities and infrastructure are inadequate. Having an alumni advisory board would be helpful.

The recommendations for the future are the same as before with the addition of increasing the number of responses to the alumni follow-up survey. This year the response rate university-wide at the graduate level was 40 percent. A post card is mailed informing individuals about the opportunity to complete the survey online, four weeks later a hard copy of the survey is distributed to individuals who did not respond, and then the Public Opinion Laboratory tries to contact individuals who did not previously respond.

The 2009 University Writing Project Report was distributed with the agenda for today. This project is done each year and assesses 500 course-embedded writing samples from seniors. The writing is assessed on seven different dimensions (focus, genre, audience, organization, critical thinking, writer’s presence, presentation). A 3.0 scale is used to evaluate each criterion and each sample is reviewed by two individuals producing scores that range from 2 to 6. The mean score for all students was 4.14--slightly above adequate. In six of the seven areas the overall writing scores met or slightly exceeded expectations. All of the categories were adequate except presentation (grammar, punctuation, and usage). Current term cumulative grade point averages and ACT verbal scores were also looked at for variances. The spring 2009 GPA accounted for 18 percent of the variance, while ACT verbal scores accounted for 4 percent of the variance. There was an inverse relationship between scores and use of the University Writing Center. This could be because the students know they are having problems and seek assistance. Next year we will be asking for examples of the papers that exemplify the ratings. We really want to close the loop on this. We would like to know how these data are being used and what things should be included in the project to make this more beneficial for the broader university community. The process of recruiting participants for this year is currently taking place, and the call for participation is sent to the chairs. Information about this project is also on the Office of Assessment Services website and in Toolkit.

The meeting adjourned at 4:50 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Carolyn A. Cradduck