ACADEMIC PLANNING COUNCIL
Minutes of September 29, 2008
3 p.m., Holmes Student Center – Room 505
Present: Alden, Cassidy, Dawson, Erman, Fox, Gorman, Gough, Jeris, Marcellus, Molnar, Novak, Otieno, Prawitz
Guests: Donna Askins, Research Associate, Office of the Provost; Carolinda Douglass, Director, Assessment Services; Ibrahim Abdel-Motaleb, Acting Chair, Department of Electrical Engineering; Alan Genis, Director, Microelectronics Research and Development Laboratory; Mansour Tahernezhadi, Associate Dean, College of Engineering and Engineering Technology; Promod Vohra, Dean, College of Engineering and Engineering Technology
The meeting was called to order at 3 p.m. It was moved and seconded to approve the minutes of September 22, 2008, and the motion passed unanimously.
Ibrahim Abdel-Motaleb, Acting Chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering; Mansour Tahernezhadi, Associate Dean of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology; and Promod Vohra, Dean of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology were introduced. The APC will be discussing all of the programs in the Department of Electrical Engineering and the Microelectronics Research and Development Laboratory today.
Prawitz presented the subcommittee findings for the Department of Electrical Engineering. The departmental strengths include faculty productivity, the effective practice, and students’ job placements. The faculty members are dedicated to student success and have an open door policy, and the faculty advise the students. Experience-based learning has been showcased as an effective practice that provides “real world” experiences for students.
The college feels that these are some of the strongest programs in the college, and the Department of Electrical Engineering is a forward-looking department. The college does not have enough resources to have numerous degree programs, so the department has tried to embed different options within emphases or specializations to meet students’ interests.
The discussion points include expanding the programs given the size of the faculty, choosing one effective practice, and editing the document for clarity. The department should focus on one effective practice in the report. The faculty have discussed the different programs they are trying to expand, but without additional faculty, how can this be accomplished? The department is trying to embed these areas within existing degree programs. Electrical engineering students are required to take courses in chemistry, biology, and physics, and then students take engineering courses. Currently there are three biomedical courses offered, and these courses are also open to other students as electives. These courses are already in place. The department has been able to hire a person in the radio frequency engineering area because of a retirement. The imaging process area is winding down, and in the nanotechnology area the program is working with the Departments of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Physics. It would be helpful to have one more faculty for the nanotechnology area. The department makes good use of the resources available. The college participates in faculty course buyouts using grant money, and this has helped to have some flexibility with resources. Faculty members are provided some release time in order to get involved with grant writing. Most of the faculty in the bioengineering and biotechnology areas are engaged in research. The faculty who are not involved in research have a differential teaching load. The college should have better success in obtaining grant funding in the next couple of years. There are teams of usually five to six faculty members applying for grants, and graduate assistants are also involved in this process. The faculty in the department are meeting regularly to develop initiatives, and hopefully by the end of this academic year the faculty will be ready to submit proposals. The faculty are also trying to make connections on campus too. There is a cluster of research excellence in the department, college, and outside the college.
The department has already incorporated most of the subcommittee’s recommendations in the report. The document has been reduced by about 40 percent.
The strengths of the B.S. in Electrical Engineering include that students are well prepared for professional careers, the minority representation in the program is good, and the program is cost effective. Graduates of the B.S. program are well prepared for careers of a professional nature, and the graduates find positions in their chosen fields. This is something that incoming students and their parents should be told. The employment outlook continues to be excellent. Despite declining overall enrollments both nationally and at NIU, the number of female students has remained the same. Over the review period, the program costs have remained at or below the statewide averages.
Discussion points include streamlining the learning outcomes and focusing assessment on direct measures. Other discussion points are the alumni survey data indicate that students don’t perceive being well prepared in ethics and team building; benchmarking; and including information in the “Program Areas Needing Improvement” and “Planned Program Changes” sections of the review. Having both the department’s list of learning outcomes and the accrediting body’s learning outcomes in the review is redundant. The department should focus on its learning outcomes. The assessment section should focus on direct measures of assessment. Rather than using the alumni surveys, which have a low response rate, the department should use direct measures to provide this information. The department is now using the senior design project as an assessment tool; the laboratory experiences should be part of assessment too. The college has 36 laboratories. All of the departments in the college will now have assessment committees, and we will ask assessment services to come and talk to us.
Alumni survey results consistently indicted that students thought they were not well prepared in ethics or team building. Students may not recognize the ethics and team building opportunities that are already provided in their course work. Does the department have more opportunities other than the senior project for students to work in teams? Most junior and senior level courses have team projects. In the biomedical engineering course students design and build a machine, and this is definitely a team project. Group projects are the norm in these types of courses. Perhaps when students graduate, they work with people in other areas, and maybe they don’t speak the same language. The hope is that an attorney will be brought into the senior design process, and we want to ask the business students to get involved in this too. In the class where students put together the proposal for the senior design project, you could ask students to respond to items on team work and ethical training. It is important to mention over and over that these are team building projects, and ethics is included throughout the course work. In the senior design project the college is going to mandate that students receive several ethics lectures.
In the program review it was not clear what programs you were using for comparison. Peers are Southern Illinois University, Carbondale and Bradley, and we would like to be like University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UI-UC) and IIT. The department has been able to gather the enrollment information, but the data on the other two indicators have been difficult to find. Enrollment and degrees awarded at NIU are higher than all the comparison institutions, except UI-UC. Our program has 13 faculty, and compares favorably to UI-UC, which has 34 faculty. The program will still look for the rest of these data. Student/faculty ratio could be used as one of the indicators. The program could also use the number of opportunities for engaged learning and the availability of internships as indicators. Benchmarking is not about being a leader or a follower; it is about goal setting. The college would consider Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology an aspiring program at the baccalaureate level. It is appropriate to use different institutions for benchmarking at different program levels.
The subcommittee thought that it was an oversight that nothing was mentioned in the “Program Areas Needing Improvement” section of the review even though there are many statements throughout the review about plans. This information needs to be moved into this section. The department distributed a new conclusion section for both programs. The “Planned Program Changes” section also needs to be addressed. There are many statements in other sections of the review that should be moved to this section. The college feels strongly that faculty research plans should be implemented. These plans should state what a faculty member wants to do and address over the next five years. This will allow the department to have a plan on where it wants to go. The faculty have been meeting regularly, and the faculty clusters are now formed; funding agencies will need to be identified. The Graduate School and the college have co-funded a research associate to match faculty with funding opportunities. The teaching load in the college is very high; typically faculty teach five courses, advise 25 students, and manage laboratories. The college tries to buyout some courses so faculty can have time to develop these things.
One of the recommendations is to remove the list of ABET learning outcomes from the review; your departmental learning outcomes cover the ABET learning outcomes. The subcommittee recommends a follow-up report in one year on the revised assessment plan including data collected on your direct assessment measures. The follow-up report should also indicate how the data inform the curriculum, and talk about what students can do upon program completion. This will also tie into ABET. This follow-up report seems like the work of the UAP instead of the APC. The Office of the Provost has tried to make assessment everyones’ business. Assessment reports have been brought back to this group in the past, but the annual updates go to the UAP. The department has this information, but it is not in the report. The report contains the description of the process; what’s needed is the information about what the faculty find out from this process and what changes are made from the information they obtain.
The APC turned to the review of the M.S. program. The strengths of the program include strong occupational demand, updates and maintenance of the hardware and software in the laboratories that support students’ and faculty scholarship, and the program costs. Like the B.S. program, the costs for the M.S. program have remained at or below the statewide average during the review period.
Discussion points are the learning outcomes; assessment of these outcomes; and completion of the “External Benchmarking,” “Program Areas Needing Improvement,” and “Planned Program Changes” sections. The master’s program learning outcomes need to be clearly distinguished from the undergraduate learning outcomes. Adding the word “advanced” is not sufficient. Different expectations for these graduate students should be stated, e.g., research. The department indicated that this has already been changed in the report. Some of the other criteria are similar to the B.S. program. The word “advanced” can be used, but there needs to be differences explained in the report. The assessment plan needs to be grounded in direct measures of student learning. The department is probably already assessing the students; it just needs to collect and summarize these data. The information for the “Program Areas Needing Improvement” and the “Planned Program Changes” sections is in the report; it just needs to be moved into the appropriate section. The “External Benchmarking” section needs to be completed. The summary section should not introduce new information that is not already in the report.
The program exposes students to an international culture and graduates understand how to build things in these different cultures. In the past, about 80 percent of the international students stayed in the United States after graduation, but once countries become advanced, graduates start to go back home. Right now the majority of students stay here.
Recommendations include clarifying the assessment learning outcomes, which was already discussed. The subcommittee recommends a follow-up report in one year on the learning outcomes and a revised assessment plan. The follow-up report should include information on data collected using direct assessment measures and how these data inform curriculum.
The council turned to the review of the Microelectronics Research and Development Laboratory. Alan Genis, Director of the Laboratory was introduced. After the building was constructed it became apparent that the clean room was not clean. The university went into litigation, and this took a long time to resolve. The suit was only settled a few years ago. After this was resolved, the university tried to get the laboratory fixed, and so far this has been a three-year process. In the past, companies have contacted us to use the laboratory, but we couldn’t do this. This laboratory requires $60,000 to $70,000 in ongoing expenses, and it has been a drain on the college not to have this laboratory functioning at 100 percent. The Department of Physics has provided some equipment for the laboratory, and the laboratory has been used to design a nanosensor. Northwestern University has a clean room like ours, and in the future NIU might be able to get a Class 1 ranking for the clean room. It is the hope that within the next six months the laboratory will be handed over to the college fully functioning. The college would like to bring in more resources once the laboratory is operational. It is an expensive laboratory to maintain. The information about the new funding opportunities should be added to the report. The facilities are probably 90 to 95 percent complete at this moment. There is a problem with the deionize water system that could require a $20,000 to $40,000 fix from the capital development budget. This will probably take six to nine months to complete. The processing units have not been installed, and this will take another two to four months. Realistically the laboratory will not be functioning at 100 percent for probably another year. The company that bought out Motorola wants to discuss renting space in this facility. There was another stumbling block when the equipment caught fire and contaminated everything. This costs $1.5 million to fix; all of the filters in the clean room had to be replaced.
Strengths of the laboratory are that it is moving toward being fully functional, the revenue-producing agreements with companies, and the educational initiatives with middle- and high-school educators. Even though the laboratory has not been fully operational since its initiation, it is moving towards this. The laboratory has a longstanding partnership with Argonne National Laboratory that has resulted in substantial cash infusion over the past five years. Other agreements with companies either exist or are in the works. Companies are coming on board renting space and giving money. The laboratory participates in educational initiatives to expose middle- and high-school teachers and students to microelectronics and nanoscience, thus improving the visibility of the laboratory to the community-at-large.
Items for discussion are shortening the length of the report, adding information about addressing the goals of the Illinois Commitment, condensing the description of the laboratory’s objectives, and a plan for developing the laboratory into a self-sustaining cost center. Adding the information about how the Illinois Commitment goals are addressed would strengthen the report. The report should focus on the laboratory’s activities over the last five years. A very brief summary (one paragraph) regarding the history of the laboratory would be appropriate. The historical overview should be on the front part of the report; the rest of the report should focus on the last five years. The explanation of how the unit’s objectives are met is not necessary; the report should include a description of how the laboratory achieves its objectives. Once all the problems are resolved, the laboratory has the potential to be a self-sustaining cost center and this should be part of the plans for the future. As part of the strategic planning process the university is looking at core facilities. The university would like to have a model for cost centers that can be used across the university. It may be necessary to bring in some consultants to help create this model. To make it a self-sustaining cost center you have to charge enough to fund it, but it can’t be too expensive and it has to be available for teaching; it’s a balancing issue. The laboratory has a strong partnership with liberal arts and sciences and engineering. There will be at least 14 departments that will be using this facility.
Recommendations for the future are developing a plan for the future and submitting a follow-up report in two years to evaluate progress. The laboratory should begin work on specific plans for what it would like to see happen in the next three to five years, and costs should be spelled out in this plan. The laboratory has the potential to be a self-supporting cost center, and should be set up according to the federal guidelines for cost centers. This information should be incorporated into the future plans section of the report. The follow-up report should help determine whether the laboratory is progressing toward the goal of being self-supportive.
One of the problems the laboratory has is there is no cost center for running the facility. If something breaks, we find money from a grant, the faculty fix the problem, or the dean provides money. The day-to-day operations include 21 users from nine different departments. The laboratory does not charge users for operational costs because it wants to promote the interaction between partnerships and groups. The laboratory needs a funding source. A recommendation should be to establish the laboratory as a costs center and have some operational money to run it. For example, the college has a women in engineering program and one of things that it does is bring in young females to see the clean room. It costs about $3,000 to do this because of the costs of the suits that have to be worn in the clean room. The college struggles to find the money to do this, but this is important. This is a unit that has a lot of potential. The university could become a prime location for this type of center.
The meeting was adjourned at 4:20 p.m.
Carolyn A. Cradduck