2004 Denver Annual Meeting (November 7–10, 2004)

Paper No. 5
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM


BARRON, Eric J., Department of Geosciences, Penn State Univ, 116 Deike Building, University Park, PA 16802, barron@ems.psu.edu

The Penn State University Geoscience Department has participated in two major innovations during the last 15 years. The first was the move toward an “Earth Systems” perspective including emphasis on the interface between geologic sciences and biology, and the second is a new initiative in creating a more student-centered environment that enables recruitment and retention. The Earth Systems innovation began with the start of the Earth System Science Center in 1986, initiated with substantial funds for new faculty positions and a support staff. The Center was designed in a manner to ensure that it did not fall into the trap of the many failed environmental programs of the 60’s and 70’s. The keys to the success were: (1) deliberate effort to ensure that the new enterprise was collaborative rather than competitive (e.g. departments and the center both shared in the success of the faculty), (2) new faculty are fully entrained within the department, (3) the new enterprise added value to the intellectual enterprise, and (4) faculty hires in new disciplines were enabled at no cost to the department. The Center sought faculty interested in new, innovative research directions and at the same time the department ensured that the faculty member would be a true departmental participant and collaborator. The second innovation at Penn State is one of creating a more student-centered environment. Tight budgets are resulting in large tuition increases coupled with extensive efforts to reduce expenditures within most universities. Decreased student services with increased tuition is potentially the worst outcome of this budget scenario. Penn State is currently countering this trend with an emphasis on student spaces combining advising, tutoring, workspace and the freshman experience, while also working to embed classrooms within faculty office and lab areas. The change in environment is leading to increases in student yield and dramatic increases in the quality of the climate for our undergraduates.