Building Strong Departments > Workshops > Strengthening Your Geoscience Program > Participants and their Contributions > Thomas Nelson Community College

Thomas Nelson Community College Department of Geology

by Pete Berquist and Lynsey LeMay


Overview:

The Geology Department at Thomas Nelson Community College is comprised of one full-time faculty member, and at least two adjunct instructors each semester. The full-time faculty position is also the Department Head, and reports directly to the Dean of the Division of Science and Allied Health; this division additionally includes Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Science Education, Health, Physical Education, and a diverse Nursing program. Each program within the division has their own dedicated labs, although we collectively share purchasing budgets. The Geology Department is relatively young, having had a full-time instructor for ~4 years, and in that time has moved from the Division of Math, Engineering, and Technology to the present Division.

As an institution, TNCC serves ~14,000 students annually, where students are pursing Associates Degrees, Certificate programs, workforce development, or transfer status into 4-year academic programs. Geology receives ~ 200 to 250 students each semester (except for summer terms, which draw ~30 students). Informal polling of students inquiring why they decided to take a geology course reveals that over 95% perceive that geology will be easier than physics, chemistry, or biology.

Strengths

  • We are fortunate to have an adjunct instructor who expresses a strong (and long-term) commitment to the geology program. Additionally, this instructor works very well with the full-time instructor, especially in regard to shared/complimentary teaching styles and philosophy, inclusion of field work, trying new teaching methods, and overall interest in providing students with geoscience education relevant to their daily lives.
  • Interest and flexibility by instructors to adapt courses to student and other department's interests and needs.
  • Support of our academic Dean and Vice President. Our administration has made it clear that they are interested in supporting the development of the geology program as mush as possible. This does not come in the form of unlimited funding, however, they are helpful in acquiring resources when available, and especially supporting faculty in grant writing. Additionally, administration is very supportive of providing field experiences for students. This support comes in the form of providing vehicles, field supplies (when possible), and encouragement to incorporate and develop field experiences.
  • Dedicated laboratory space, with assistance from Division-wide lab coordinators.
  • Geology courses are required for students pursuing their teaching certificates. This ensures enrollment in students, but moreover, students who recognize that they my one day have to teach this subject. Generally, the education students add a very positive dynamic to the classes.

Weaknesses

  • Having only one full-time faculty, I think, presents the greatest challenge for the continued development of the geology program. Although the Geology Department is unique in that we have a committed and available adjunct instructor, in general, adjuncts have less flexibility in offering and developing courses, and receive very little economic incentive for their efforts. By bringing on at least one more full-time instructor, I strongly believe that we would be able to offer 1) more sections of existing classes, 2) more diverse course offerings, 3) increased opportunities to apply for external funding, and 4) stronger advocacy for the department.
  • Course enrollment is generally low. I believe this is due, in part, to 1) limited course offerings and 2) strict adherence to a minimum enrollment of 15 students per class. The number of possible course offerings are also contingent on the availability of adjunct instructors.
  • The student body is largely either/both unaware or uninterested in the geosciences. While this trend may in part be a function of the community served, the Department could only benefit by increased (and more effective) visibility and advertising.

Planning process

The Geology Department does not have a formal planning process. Decision about the number of courses, and development of courses involves consultation with adjunct instructors and the Division Dean. Ideas for courses that may be of interest to students, and developed in the future come from informal conversations with other instructors at TNCC.

Recent department review

To my knowledge, the department has never received a formal review, and there are no plans to conduct such a review. However, Departments are required to review, and update, their curriculum every two years. This review is restricted to courses currently offered and does not account for any future plans for the department.