Middle Tennessee State University Department of Geosciences
by Melissa K. Lobegeier
The major strength of Department of Geosciences at MTSU is the dedicated and experienced faculty. The department has a long history of graduates who are well-prepared for the workforce and graduate school. Recent graduates are successfully employed as oil company exploration geologists, environmental managers, college professors, regional planners, and high school teachers. Recent alumni have received full graduate scholarships to schools such as Notre Dame, The University of Oklahoma School of Geophysics, Vanderbilt, and Miami-Ohio. The Department is home to the state-wide Tennessee Geographic Alliance. Over the past decade, Geosciences faculty have received over $1 million in external funding from agencies such as NSF, USEPA, NASA, and USAID and currently have over $800,000 in pending external grant proposals. All grants to Geosciences faculty are used to support undergraduate research and acquire research instrumentation. The Department has received over $200,000 in NSF-funded analytical geochemistry instrumentation, and recently completed a $150,000 renovation of its Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Laboratory. The geochemistry and GIS labs are used extensively by students and faculty from across the university as well as users from other universities and government agencies. The Department has a strong history of student-centered learning with a very strong undergraduate research program. The faculty teach numerous field courses across the United States and student participation in regional and national geosciences conferences is strongly encouraged. The Department has the only Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Museum at any Tennessee state institution; thousands of teachers and K-12 students visit annually. The faculty participates in numerous programs (Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Women in Science and Engineering, Expanding Your Horizons, Girls Raised in Tennessee Science, Science Olympiad) for outreach and recruitment from underrepresented groups.
In terms of weaknesses the Department is understaffed, underfunded and has limited space. The Department has 10 tenured and tenure-track faculty, three temporary full-time faculty and two administrative faculty. The Department has approximately 75 majors and offers three courses in the General Education curriculum: Introduction to Earth Science, Physical Geology, and Regional Geography. In the 2008-2009 academic year, approximately 2500 students enrolled in these courses. The Department produces a high total of student credit hours and there is a significantly higher workload on faculty than in many other MTSU departments. The Department has space constrictions in its current building. Additional space is necessary in order to accommodate additional courses and much needed faculty. In addition to the newly renovated GIS lab, only one other classroom utilized by the department can be classified as a master classroom. Another weakness is that there are currently too many options for majors. The Department currently has three concentrations for geography majors and three for geology majors. We are working on how to best consolidate these concentrations into fewer options. The Department also lacks visibility on campus. The Department is in the College of Liberal Arts at MTSU and not in the College of Basic and Applied Sciences leading to lower visibility and possibly lower numbers of majors.
The Department has no formal planning process. If a need is identified faculty are selected to work on fulfilling this need and then options are presented to the full Department. Decisions are made in departmental faculty meetings.
The most recent external review of the Department stated, "The Department of Geosciences is a successful program operated under excellent leadership, with diverse and experienced faculty." The review noted that more space is required and that the current curriculum is effective but that a senior thesis requirement should be considered. It was also noted that the Department has a high service load but we do not attract as many majors as we should. It was suggested that housing the department in "Sciences" rather than "Liberal Arts" might increase visibility.