Building Strong Geoscience Departments > Workshops > Assessing Geoscience Programs > Participants and their Contributions > Nelson Ham
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St. Norbert College Geology Department Overview and Assessment

Nelson Ham, Department of Geology, St. Norbert College

Program Overview

The Geology Department at St. Norbert College is relatively young—the major program was established in 1994 with the hire of a second full-time faculty member. A third full-time faculty member was added in the fall of 2004. All three faculty positions are tenure-track, with two faculty now tenured. In recent years the program has graduated between 1 and 4 majors per year. The department makes a substantial contribution to the SNC General Education program. Most faculty teach at least one introductory geology course each semester, which largely serves non-science students fulfilling their science requirement. Similar to most undergraduate geology programs, we actively recruit new geology majors from our introductory courses. The geology curriculum is typical of most undergraduate programs. A year of calculus, physics, and chemistry is required in addition to a broad selection of geology courses covering the topics of mineralogy, igneous/metamorphic petrology, sedimentary geology, structural geology, and hydrogeology. Two geology elective courses are also required. In addition, majors are required to attend a summer field camp (offered by another institution). The geology department regularly offers field trips, including extended trips over winter and spring break. These extended trips can be taken for course credit.


Given the relatively small size of the geology major program at SNC, there has been relatively little pressure from our Office of Institutional Effectiveness to establish an assessment program that relies heavily on quantitative analysis of assessment tools. Instead, we have focused on using feedback from four sources to evaluate how we might improve our program in the interest of (1) preparing our students for graduate study, and (2) preparing our students for entry-level jobs in the geosciences (such as in geotechnical firms).

Our four sources of information come from the following. First, we routinely receive summary data and comments from the senior exit survey conducted by the College. A number of questions in the survey specifically as about the 'satisfaction' of the students with their major program in areas of courses, resources, and preparation for their careers beyond SNC. Second, we receive data and comments from alumni surveys conducted by the College. These surveys address many of the same questions given in the senior survey discussed above. Third, we have developed our own alumni survey, in which we attempt to gather specific information about the satisfaction of our majors with their education at SNC. We focus specifically on what aspects of the geology major they believe should be modified or changed completely in the best interests of preparing them for their work after leaving the College. We have attempted to give this survey to alumni five years after they leave the College. Finally, we have developed a relatively simple evaluation form/survey for field-camp directors that have our students participate in their summer field courses. Our goal with this survey is to get feedback on how our curriculum prepares our students for synthesizing and applying their basic coursework in field geology. Along with this survey, we ask student's permission to maintain a record of the field-camp grade as a quantitative measure of their performance in field-camp. We do not maintain records of names associated with the grades.

We have found that our alumni survey and the field-camp director's survey have been the most useful tools in evaluated our program from the standpoint of modifying specific course content or the curriculum. As an example, a number of students in recent years noted that one shortcoming of our current program is adequate training in optical mineralogy (especially for those going on to graduate research in igneous and metamorphic petrology). As such, we have started to incorporate more training in this area in two majors courses.

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