Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 8:15 AM
CHARACTERISTICS OF THRIVING DEPARTMENTS AND PROGRAMS: INSIGHTS FROM THE PHYSICS AND MATHEMATICS COMMUNITIES
Academic departments play a fundamental role in creating and institutionalizing change in academic institutions. It is at the departmental level that undergraduate and graduate degree programs are designed and implemented, that learning communities of students and faculty can be created, that advising and co-curricular programs are established, and that spending priorities are set. In today's rapidly evolving environment, why do some departments thrive, while others are less successful? Elements that indicate success include high morale among students and faculty reflecting a community that is working and learning together, graduates who find good jobs or obtain admission to graduate programs in geoscience and in other fields, a strong reputation within their own institutions, faculty who work together as a team to provide excellent educational opportunities for students at all levels, a diverse set of successful students, and enrollments that are sustained at or moving toward a number appropriate for the institution. Studies of physics (National Task Force on Undergraduate Physics, Hilborne et al., 2003) and mathematics (Tucker, 1995) indicate the importance of activities such as recruiting, advising, and, mentoring students, assisting with professional development for a diversity of careers, providing opportunities for undergraduates to participate in research, and making connections with the local industries and businesses that employ graduates. Substantial case study work in physics (SPIN-UP: Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate Physics) suggests that while all departments are unique, common characteristics of successful departments include a well-defined mission, strong, sustained leadership, active engagement of students in the department, an emphasis on the entire program (recruiting, advising, and mentoring students, engaging undergraduates in research, providing excellent courses for all students, getting feedback from students, providing multiple tracks/options, building a sense of community), and engagement of a large percent of the faculty. The challenges of creating a strong program can be most effectively met using a team approach that capitalizes on the strengths of every department member.