Geology & Geography Department, UNC-Pembroke
by Martin B. Farley
Geology is part of the Geology & Geography Department at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP). The geology program has been growing over the last eight years. From less than one FTE geologist in 2001-2002 (the geologist had to teach some geography at that time), geology now has three tenure-eligible faculty and one full-time lecturer (of seven faculty total). UNCP is a minority-serving institution (27% African-American; 18% Native American; 6% others), so we have an opportunity to present geology to a population under-served by college-level geology instruction.
One contributor to our success in building geology is that the administration sees us as helpful in providing general education across the class schedule as enrollment has grown since 2001. General education geology has filled 99% of capacity since 2003 and Fall 2009 sections are currently 63% full before any incoming freshmen have registered.
Although we don't have a geoscience major as yet (see below), we have a geology minor and are an important contributor to science education (bachelor's and master's). This means the program has a dozen courses beyond general education that need to be taught periodically. The number of earth science education majors are far out of proportion to the relative number of faculty among science departments. We also received a NSF grant to improve earth science education in local high schools (these, as with UNCP, are dominated by students from underrepresented groups).
Classes are small (32 or fewer students; beyond general education, much smaller), so that faculty can be flexible in their teaching approach. Until recently, there was no problem with low enrollment courses, but the current fiscal situation has provoked the administration to start worrying about this.
UNCP is a teaching institution with standard 4/4 teaching loads. Labs count as only half a course for load purposes, this is a particular problem if a faculty member has to teach different labs. In addition to the high total loads, the preparation load is high (3-5 preps per geologist). This hinders much activity besides teaching and university service during the academic year.
We face a number of hurdles in research. UNCP's history means that there are essentially no research labs in the sciences. In geology, we have about 140 square feet that must act as storage for teaching collections (rocks/minerals/fossils/maps) and research lab. This is a major handicap in conducting research. It has been difficult to get students involved in research: science education majors point towards student teaching, many students commit to the minor or earth science ed only late in their college career, and many students are non-traditional with jobs or families. As with many institutions, scholarly expectations have increased.
Although we have increased the field component of our course work, our location on the Coastal Plain without significant rock exposures has made routine field trips difficult for topics beyond surficial features. We have created a geology field trip in the May summer session, but its viability is tenuous because the maximum practical enrollment is the same as the minimum allowed for summer classes.
We have designed a major flexible enough to allow students to follow either a geology or geography path. This seems more sensible than separate majors, both to recruit reasonable numbers and to avoid increasing the preparation burden on faculty. This major did not require addition of any geology courses beyond what we already teach. This major has been approved at UNCP, but requires approval by the UNC System administration as well. This broader approval has been hung up for more than a year because the System has been revising the approval procedure.
The university expects that departments will create plans on about a five-year interval. At the moment, department planning is in hiatus because of a university-wide strategic planning initiative. Since the department was reinstated four years ago, there has not been a departmental review, although one would be due soon. The most recent review in 1998 stems from the previous incarnation of the department, before the arrival of any of the current geology faculty.