Department of Geology, University of Cincinnati
by Barry Maynard and Lewis Owen
Our Department has built on its long-standing excellence in paleontology, geomorphology, and stratigraphy-sedimentology and currently focuses on
- Paleontology and paleobiology,
- Sedimentology, stratigraphy and low-temperature geochemistry, and
- Quaternary geology/geomorphology and landscape dynamics.
We center our curriculum around these strengths, providing our students with opportunities to have hands-on experience in research in these areas, but endeavor to provide a holistic training in geology. Until about four years ago our enrolment of majors in Geology (BS and BA) was in the mid-twenties. Since then we have progressively increase our numbers to over 70 majors. This is likely a consequence of active recruitment and commitment to retention of enrolled students. In particular, we implemented a freshman seminar series. Our graduate program comprises between 20 to 25 masters and doctoral students, most of whom work as teaching or research assistants funded about 2/3 by the College, and 1/3 from grants and endowments.
The Department has a faculty of one Associate Professor and 10 Professors. Unfortunately, in the last year, the Department has lost three faculty members (two retired and one died). We are a faculty of "older white men", which contrasts markedly with our undergraduate and graduate student populations. In 2009-2010, for example, graduate students will comprise fewer than 50% non-minority, male students (40% female). The average age of faculty in the Department is 58, with only two faculty members being younger than 50, and it is likely that we will see at least four more retirements within the next 5-10 years. There is clearly a need to increase diversity and address the age structure of our faculty. The last new faculty appointment was made in 2004 and the latest previous appointment was made in 1998. These two appointments significantly strengthened our research focus in paleontology, stratigraphy/sedimentology, and Quaternary geology/geomorphology, which resulted in increased graduate (and undergraduate) enrollment and enhanced external funding. These two hires also significantly increased the publication and grant output of the Department. But with our recent loss of faculty, and our age structure and composition, new appointments are vital for the health of the Department. Moreover, our losses have diminished our ability to deliver teaching and research across the range of subdisciplines that maintains the integrity of the core topics of geology. We are "promised" two new faculty positions in the coming years, plus a joint appointment with the Department of Geography. We aim to attract young female or minority candidates to these positions. Subject areas will be in biogeochemistry/biodiversity/paleobiology, isotope geochemistry and geomorphic hazards. These are aimed to enhance the analytical and quantitative aspects of our program. The real challenge is to find the right young individuals that we can support to help drive our department in the coming years.
The University of Cincinnati has made the decision to convert from the quarter to semester system in 2011. This means we have to convert all our courses from 10 week programs to 16 week programs. However, this provides us with the opportunity to totally revamp our program to simplify and rationalize it for more efficient and effective teaching. Furthermore, the administration is insisting that we do not teach courses to fewer than 21 students, unless absolutely essential. Clearly, even with 70 majors this is a challenge. We, therefore, need to develop innovative ways of including non-majors with our majors without jeopardizing the in depth and essential training for our majors. The College is also requiring that we implement 4+1 degree courses, that is, a BA progressing into a MS in 5 years. We are the initial stages of implementing this program, the principal hurdle being delineating it from our normal 2-ear program. Changes to our curriculum are undertaken under the direction of the Head upon the recommendation of an ad hoc committee comprising several faculty (including the undergraduate and graduate director) and approved by the whole faculty.
To help increase the efficiency of implementing the new curriculum changes, the increased student numbers, the new 4+1 degree program, and to oversee the management of fieldwork and several laboratory courses, we have created a new position, the Academic Director, at the expense of loosing one of our secretarial staff. This position will be advertised soon and the new person, with a MS degree in geology will be in place ready for the next academic year. This will also help bridge the gap between our old faculty and students. To include students in research projects and to help with retention we have developed a graduate-undergraduate mentoring program. This has proved very effective and has helped bridge the gap between our aged faculty and young undergraduate students.
Our Department emphasizes the research aspects of Geology, possibly at the expense of the applied aspects. A few decades ago, we had strong links with industry, notably the petroleum industry, and have many alumni in high positions with international oil companies, but those links have weakened with the retirement of our petroleum-centered faculty. We need to investigate ways of renewing these connections.
Our last program review was five years ago, but we are scheduled to undertake a whole program review next year. This will be done internally.
The department has a generous endowment and as a consequence can fund many student and faculty activities. However, the return on our endowment has decreased by 20% during the last year. Nevertheless, we should still be able to continue most of our internally-funded programs for the coming year. But, our College is suffering from the recession and the full implications of the budget cuts have still to be fully realized. We are hoping this will not affect the faculty positions we are promised in the coming years. Of particular concern is securing sufficient start-up funds.
Our department has also seen a change in leadership in the last year. An Acting Head was appointed, who will now take over a Head for the next 5 years. This clearly presents some challenges and new opportunities for leadership and changes in the immediate future.
In summary, our department has a long history or relative stability and success in training student, but like most Departments of Geology, we are in a time of rapid change and financial challenges.