Building Strong Departments > Workshops > Strengthening Your Geoscience Program > Participants and their Contributions > Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Geoscience Department - Indiana University of Pennsylvania

by Katie Farnsworth, Jon Lewis and Michael Poage


The Geoscience Department at IUP is an undergraduate (~50-60 majors) department of seven faculty offering two Geoscience majors (Geology Track, Environmental Track) and an Earth and Space Science Education major.

Department strengths include the following:

  • Our faculty is comparatively young (four new tenure-track professors hired in the past six years) and for IUP research active, with programs involving undergraduates and resulting in peer-reviewed publications. Success with external funding is modest in comparison to more research-oriented universities; success with internal funding is excellent.
  • At present, our department operates unhindered by significant personality conflicts. This creates a collegial environment that allows for efficient and un-contentious decision-making and execution of department business.
  • Our department lab facilities are adequate in size and function. Faculty have individually allocated lab spaces housing discipline-specific equipment purchased through modest start-up funds and internal/external funding.
  • We are transitioning into a more modern, liberal curriculum emphasizing research and field experiences throughout the student's tenure in the program.
  • We currently offer an array of popular introductory courses satisfying the science component of IUP's liberal studies requirements. The ability to consistently offer large-enrollment service courses makes for a solid working relationship with the Dean's Office, allowing us to teach smaller upper-level majors classes. The burden of teaching these classes is generally shared amongst the faculty.
  • We currently control a fleet of four vans used for field trips and student/faculty research.

Department weaknesses include the following:

  • On a per faculty basis, the number of majors in our department is comparatively low, despite regionally important natural gas and coal resources. This translates into low-enrollment upper-level courses, which we are under increasing pressure to replace with additional sections of larger introductory courses.
  • Many students enrolled in our programs are poorly prepared for college. Issues include lack of basic math and writing skills, and poorly developed study habits. Consequently attrition is high in our majors-level introductory classes, and many that do pass struggle in later, more quantitative and writing-intensive courses.
  • The university maintains the equivalent of a 4/4 teaching load. There are limited opportunities for course release for research active or grant writing faculty. This teaching load places severe time constraints on research activity, the pursuit of outside funding, and our ability to enact major departmental initiatives.
  • We also have a high departmental, college and university service load as required service assignments are distributed across fewer faculty than many departments at IUP.
  • Our department budget is sufficient to operate only at a bare minimum level having been virtually stagnant for the past twenty years.
  • Since 2000, we have lost 1.25 FTE, leaving holes in our curriculum (most notably in Geophysics) and limiting our ability to expand upper-level course offerings given the expectation that we continue teaching large introductory courses at the our current rate.

Department Planning Process

Our departmental planning process involves formal and informal components. Being a small and collegial department many ideas are hatched in informal settings both on and off campus. These often generate the seeds of new ideas for directions that courses, research, curricula or departmental projects might take. Recurring themes from informal discussions often eventually enter the more formal component of our departmental planning.

Our regular faculty meetings are most often restricted to basic departmental business such as budget expenditures, course schedules, multi-year course rotations, and departmental events etc. Long-term planning usually occurs at our annual (or twice annual) day-long faculty retreats. Retreats usually involve a significant component of self-evaluation, reviewing how we have met previously established goals, and setting goals for both the short- and long-term. We also conduct five-year reviews for the university that entail assessment of all aspects of department programs, facilities, faculty productivity etc. (see below).

Summary of 2004-2005 Department Review

  • The Geoscience Department conducted an internal and external review in 2004-5 as part of IUP's five-year program evaluation process. Identified goals (and resultant actions) from the internal review include:
  • The department should institute a new and comprehensive student learning outcomes assessment program for major classes and degree programs. Department retreats and workshops have resulted in a focused, simple program to measure outcomes which has since been implemented for all degree programs
  • The BSEd General Science Education program should be eliminated as recent changes in Pennsylvania Department of Education requirements rendered it obsolete. It was eliminated in 2008.
  • The curriculum of the Geology and Earth and Space Science Education degree programs should incorporate more hands-on research early in the program and include new insights from earth system science. We have completely overhauled the curriculum for all three remaining degree programs incorporating interdisciplinary content and research earlier in the undergraduate experience.
  • The department needs to recruit more and better students both externally and from within the university. To this end, we have modernized our website and eased the entry requirements into our programs so that students may start in their sophomore year and still graduate within four years.

Identified goals (and resultant actions) from the external review include:

  • More lab and office space will be needed as older faculty are replaced with younger faculty who need more space for their research programs. To this end, we have renovated our office complex, adding an additional faculty office. We have also converted a large laboratory classroom into two research labs for newer faculty.
  • Deferred maintenance of teaching labs gives the department a poor appearance and detracts from attractiveness to potential students. This continues to be a problem as all of our teaching labs are housed in a building not significantly renovated since its construction in 1959. Funds for renovation or a new science complex are unavailable.
  • Major students need a larger and more modern computer room as well as a reading/study room in the department. We have established a modern computer lab (eight PCs) exclusively for student use. A reading/study room is not established for lack of space although teaching lab rooms are available for this use during off hours.
  • The department should have more reliable access to a large lecture hall in order schedule more large-enrollment courses. Through negotiation with the Dean's Office, we now have relatively consistent access to large classrooms.