Building Strong STEM Departments
(STEM = Science + Technology + Engineering + Mathematics)
Curricula and Programs
Curricula and programs form the core of a department; developing and reviewing curricula and programs are some of the most important activities a department undertakes. While every department is unique, we can learn a lot from each other's successes, and from our colleagues in other STEM disciplines.
Designing and Revising Curricula
- The Ideal Student Exercise is designed to help departments articulate their program-level goals for their students.
- A Matrix Approach to Curriculum Design: Once you have a list of program-level goals for your students, you can make sure that there are sufficient opportunities within your program for students to develop the knowledge and skills they need to attain those goals. This matrix approach facilitates that process.
- Designing Successful Internships requires thoughtful planning, just like any other learning exercise. Learn what makes internships work well.
The Future of STEM: Interdisciplinarity
- Interdisciplinary Research and Teaching are growing trends in the sciences. The resources and references on this page describe some of the benefits and challenges of interdisciplinary work.
Program Assessment and Review
How do you know whether your program is working, or which parts are working best and which could be more effective? With so many demands on your time and energy, you want to be sure that the time and energy you put into your program is achieving your departmental goals. Assess your program elements, so that you can maximize the return on your investments.
Developing an Assessment Plan
- Conduct a SWOT Analysis of your program: what are its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats? What are the internal and external factors that help or hinder your department in achieving each of your objectives?
- Measure the Impact of Your Programs on Students. Just as we need to assess our teaching to know what our students are learning, we need to assess our programs to know whether the programs are achieving our goals. Measuring the impact of programs on our students allows us to make informed choices about where we will invest our time and energy. And the process is a familiar one: data collection and analysis.
Metrics and Instruments
- Online Survey Tools provide one option for data collection. There are many available tools, and while we cannot tell you which one would best suit your needs, here is some information and a few options to get you started.
- Criteria for Success: This list of indicators of successful programs and assessment strategies was developed by participants at one of our workshops, but is not specific to the geosciences. While no single indicator demonstrates the success of a program, the presence of many of these indicators, taken cumulatively, may be considered to do so.
Recruiting a critical mass of high quality students is essential to building a successful program. These pages present many tried-and-true strategies for doing that, along with examples of how various departments have implemented those strategies. While some STEM disciplines typically have more students than they may need, others have to work to capture students' attention. Although all of the pages listed below feature examples taken from the geosciences, the strategies they describe can easily be adapted to any field of study.
- Feature Your Introductory Classes by engaging students in DOING science, integrating examples of career opportunities, addressing socially relevant issues, utilizing your best faculty, and developing topical courses. Also, be sure your entry-level courses satisfy broad institutional requirements.
- Inform Students about Career Opportunities in your field. Today's students (and their parents) are highly motivated by practical considerations: Will they be able to get a job with their degree? How well will it pay? Use presentations in your introductory courses, alumni networks, and speaker series to educate your students about careers in your discipline.
- Take your students Beyond the Classroom with authentic research, internships, field work (if appropriate), or service learning.
- Advertise Your Program, on campus and beyond. Approach your top students directly, sing your program's praises, and befriend your admissions and career office staff.
Assess Your Efforts
- Assess Your Recruitment Efforts: Know your baseline and collect data to find out how effective your efforts are.
Being a Valued Institutional Partner
Being a valued institutional partner requires doing good work and making sure that administrators know about it and understand why your work is important. As faculty members, we may feel that it is not our job to explain why our discipline is essential. Yet, if we don't do so, who will?
Defining Strong Departments
- Characteristics of a Thriving Department: Although this list was compiled at one of our early workshops, it is broadly applicable across academic disciplines.
- Insights from Other Disciplines: Thoughts from the Physics, Mathematics, Biology, and Geography education communities on what makes programs strong.
Making a Case for Your Department
- To Become a Valued Member of Your Institution, align your department with your institution's mission and values, build bridges within your community, carry your weight, and be visible.
- Use these Strategies for Making Your Case proactively, so that your administration never questions your value to the institution.
Heads and Chairs
When you find yourself in a position of leadership for which you have received no training, the following resources may help you navigate the waters.
- Recruiting and Retaining Faculty: Faculty drive the education and research that propel the modern STEM department. Ensuring that your department attracts and keeps energetic and productive faculty members is important in maintaining a vibrant department culture.
- Managing a Department also means managing budgets, physical resources, and conflict. Here are resources to help with those challenges.