APPROVED

ACADEMIC PLANNING COUNCIL
Minutes of November 9, 2009
3 p.m., Holmes Student Center HSC 505

 

Present: Brantley, Cassidy, Dawson, Erman, Falkoff, Goldblum, Gorman, Gough, Lee, Novak, Otieno, Prawitz, Ye

Guests: Donna Askins, Research Associate, Office of the Provost; David Changnon, Meteorology Undergraduate Coordinator, Department of Geography; Carolinda Douglass, Director, Office of Assessment Services; Janice Hamlet, Department of Communication; Andrew Krmenec, Chair, Department of Geography; 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 3:00 p.m. It was moved and seconded to approve the minutes of November 2, 2009, and the motion passed unanimously.

The dean and chair provided a brief overview of the Department of Geography. The Department of Geography is hitting on all cylinders. It just received degree authority for a doctoral degree, it has successful masters and undergraduate programs, and the programs are in high demand and are strong in numbers and quality. The faculty are very intentional about how they approach all aspects of the department, and they are doing well because they are leveraging all of their resources. The department has strong leadership. The only drawback is that the department is housed in Davis Hall, and has similar issues to what we talked about when we discussed the Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences review. Geography by its nature is an interdisciplinary discipline; and the department looks for interdisciplinary opportunities. The departmentís ability to participate is limited by how many places the faculty can be at at one time. When a gap analysis is done, we may find that this department is one that needs additional faculty. There are positive things that come out of the program review process: a chance to be honest about your programs, an opportunity to look at trends for the last five years, an opportunity to look at successes and limitations, and the chance to start looking ahead to the future. The department has been running an Annual Career Day for over 25 years, and this helps the department review its programs on a yearly basis. It also provides an opportunity every year to begin changing things. The certificates in geography information systems (GIS) and geography information analysis came out of demands from alumni and employers raised at our Annual Career Day. Over the last five years the biggest lessons we have learned relate to the meteorology program. Students need to think of themselves as more than meteorologists, and these students need to position themselves to compete in different fields.

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; Andrew Krmenec, Chair of the Department of Geography; and David Changnon, Meteorology Undergraduate Coordinator of the Department of Geography were introduced.

The meeting was turned over to Deb Gough for the presentation of the subcommittee report.

The report was well written and offered useful and necessary information. The strengths of the department include being housed in Davis Hall (even though there are some building issues), the curricula for the programs are challenging, the students have many opportunities for hands-on learning, and there is a large range of public service activities. Advising is vital to the students in different ways; the programs have rigorous curriculum and students need to stay on-track to graduate in a timely manner. Students have many opportunities to learn outside the classroom and work at sites like Morton Arboretum, Argonne National Laboratory, and others. Faculty work closely with students in internships and field opportunities. The department provides a range of public services for the campus community; for example, students helped to create the NIU Campus Web Map and the Huskie Bus Tracks System. Students are also involved with the ReNew DeKalb downtown redevelopment project. Another strength is that the department developed the first NIU undergraduate certificate program in GIS, and it is also involved in the homeland security curriculum. The Annual Career Day is a fantastic forum for students to meet with alums. Faculty are active and involved in international and national scholarship activities. There are 16 faculty in the department, which includes 3 visiting professors and 1 temporary instructor. Current staffing is ďÖ larger, younger, and more gender balancedĒ than in the past; however, you are continuing to recruit underrepresented groups when feasible. The department has recently received approval to offer the Ph.D. in Geography, and it currently has one application for this program. The department is also participating in the development of an environmental studies undergraduate program.

In terms of discussion points we have noted the issues with Davis Hall in the review of the geology programs. The department is looking for solutions to space issues, and it is making the best possible use of the space it has. The department is severely impacted by the loss of Cole Hall; a 250-seat auditorium is needed to teach our courses. In the subcommittee meeting the department mentioned securing additional external funding and how challenging this is. The faculty are working hard in this vein. Sometimes there is competition for research/service projects, internships, etc. Most of the competition is in the GIS area. Since the department created the GIS certificate, Waubonsee has copied our curriculum, and they are teaching technicians. We have no problem with the community colleges; however, when other places advertise that their certificate is the same as ours, this is problematic. We have also had inquires from overseas regarding this certificate. There is one school in our service region that offers a certificate similar to ours with only two faculty members. This program is actually taught by people who are employed by one of the GIS vendors, so this is a software program. Some of our students were recently involved in a regional soil judging competition, and they were awarded 2nd place. Now these students will participate in the national competition in the spring. The subcommittee also discussed the need for additional financial support for students and the off-campus course instruction requirement.

The council turned to the recommendations for the future. The building and infrastructure is inadequate in terms of space, and the conditions of the building put the laboratory equipment at risk. The department should secure additional sources of funding to support the program, research needs, and students. The department should continue to recruit from underrepresented groups.

The B.S. in Meteorology is a really interesting program, and students are very excited about this program. It has a curriculum that meets the standards of the American Meteorological Society (AMS). Students must acquire many quantitative skills and the ability to communicate well. This is a challenging program, and students have opportunities to engage in capstones. This is also a very hands-on program.

Enrollment had remained stable for four of the five years; almost 50 percent of the degrees awarded were awarded to women. The percentage of degrees awarded to minority students was much lower. Every five years or so the AMS produces a report on minority representation in the discipline. The discipline has seen an increase in the number of women in the field in the last 20 years; women now account for approximately one-third of enrollment.† In the last 15 years there has been a number of outstanding women who graduated from our program. There is a broad range of employment opportunities in addition to the typical weather forecaster and television weather person careers. Students come in thinking they will become a weather forecaster, but there are many other opportunities for graduates of this program. Students will need a broad set of skills to be successful in the environmental sciences fields. The program contributes to the general education program by offering GEOG 105. Students are involved in experiential learning, URAP, the Northern Television Center, and honors projects. Credit hours have also increased over the review period.

Discussion points include the competitive nature of the program. Western Illinois University was given authority to offer the B.S. degree in 2007, and UIUC was given authority to offer a B.S. in Atmospheric Sciences in 2008. Feedback from employers and supervisors indicates that students are well prepared, but there are a couple of areas that students need to work on (communication).

The recommendations for the future are based on the points mentioned above. Continue to seek opportunities to hire faculty to enhance diversity, and continue recruiting minority students.

The strengths of the B.A./B.S. in Geography program include strong enrollments and the number of degrees awarded, the faculty, the learning objects, and advising. NIU has the largest geography program †in terms of numbers of majors and degrees awarded at Illinois public institutions. Faculty provide opportunities for students to be involved in engaged learning. The undergraduate curriculum is organized around four disciplinary subfields: national environmental systems, urban/economic geography, GIS mapping, and area studies that prepares students for a range of career options. The learning objectives are laid out in terms of outcomes and this is a very comprehensive set of outcomes. We talked about the important role of advising. A large number of students enter the program after they come to campus. The department uses general education courses to attract students to the programs. All of the faculty teach general education courses, and faculty link information in the courses to what students can do within this field. The faculty decided as a group that the burden of teaching general education courses would be shared by the entire faculty. Recruitment from general education courses occurs in a variety of forms. For example, one faculty member checks studentsí grades in his general education course, and then contacts the top students to congratulate them and invite them to consider taking another geography course. Where it is appropriate, we want to contribute to multidisciplinary programs. Undergraduate enrollment has increased 50 percent over the review period. Enrollment of women remained stable at 29 percent; however, the enrollment of minority students is low. The program is trying to increase these numbers. There are many employment opportunities for these graduates. There are both public and private sector jobs that people with this degree can go into. The program is cost-effective and has increased credit hour production by 38 percent.

There are only a couple of discussion points. The number of minority students should be increased. The review mentioned that few students apply for graduate-level study. One of the reasons that this happens is the way the program promotes internships and graduate assistantships. Up to three-fourths of our students integrate some type of experience into their program. When these students graduate with an undergraduate degree, they have a good sense of what they enjoy doing and what type of position they want.

The recommendations for the future are to focus on recruiting minority students and continue the Annual Career Day event. Some of the alums and employers who attend the Annual Career Day talk about graduate education.

The APC turned to the strengths of the M.S. in Geography program. Students specialize in one of three subfields in the discipline: natural environmental systems, geographic information science, or urban/economic geography. Students take comprehensive examinations, complete a thesis or two non-thesis research papers, and complete an oral defense of the thesis or one of the research papers. Students are required to present their research at a department colloquium and a professional meeting. Students have been successful in working with faculty and publishing, and several students have received research grants. Occupational demand is high in the geospatial technologies area. NIUís program is one of the three largest masterís programs in the state. It is the only science-oriented graduate program in geography in the northern half of the state, and enrollment has increased more than 50 percent during the review period. Graduate enrollment growth is lagging three to four years behind the increase in the undergraduate program. There is a great deal of interest from students outside of NIU. Employment of graduates is high, and alumni surveys indicate students are employed or seeking further education. A graduate certificate in geographical information analysis was developed and is delivered on campus and online. Graduate credit hour production has increased 63 percent, and program costs have remained slightly less than the state average.

Discussion points include enrollment, the department staffing level, the diverse student population, the degree completion rate, student travel support, and the need to offer regularly scheduled online courses.
The program would like to have a 2:1 ratio of masterís to Ph.D. students as long as the funding opportunities support that ratio. The department has been understaffed for some time, and some courses had to go to a two-year rotation schedule. This results in large numbers of students in particular courses. How does the program/department develop a more diverse student population? The department talks about recruiting at its departmental meetings, and the chair attended a provost workshop on diversity. We should not think of doing recruiting separately, particularly in the STEM fields. The main problem we face is the pipeline doesnít start with us. Many middle schools and high schools have dropped geography course work. We are starting to think of a more integrated beginning of the pipeline recruitment strategy. Can we change the way school systems think about curriculum? Can we change the way teachers teach this curriculum? This is a very long-term endeavor. The Illinois State Board of Education has discussed geography and the middle school and high school standards are starting to restore some of the lessons in the geography curriculum. The degree completion rate is 85 percent. Some students require up to five years to complete the degree program. There is a plan to review the function of the seminar (GEOG 600) as a way to inform students of the requirements early in their program of study.

Recommendations for the future are to continue recruitment efforts, increase faculty size, have adequate facilities, reduce degree completion time, seek additional funding for student support, and provide additional online courses. The students who finish in two years typically graduate in August. Hopefully, at some point, additional faculty can be hired to allow for appropriate class sizes and supervision of research.

The meeting adjourned at 4:20 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Carolyn Cradduck