Defining Strong Departments

Many researchers have studied what makes a department "strong." If you want your department to thrive in the coming decades, the resources and references below will point you in the right direction.

Characteristics of Thriving Departments

This list of characteristics was developed by participants at the 2005 Workshop Developing Pathways to Strong Departments for the Future. The letter to geoscience department heads and chairs, by the same workshop participants, also outlines some critical strategies for building strong departments.

Characterizing Strong Geoscience Departments: Results of a National Survey

Read the results of a 2005 survey conducted by Randall Richardson and Susan Beck, of the University of Arizona, which asked departments about their health and success. These results are also summarized in Richardson and Ormand's article in Eos (July, 2008), available via Ormand's publication list.

Criteria for Success

This list of indicators of successful programs and assessment strategies was developed at the 2005 workshop on Developing Pathways to Strong Departments for the Future.

Threats and Opportunities at Research Universities

Read the results of a 2003-04 survey conducted by Randall Richardson and Susan Beck, asking department heads at research universities to comment on the challenges, threats and opportunities they felt they faced in the next 3-5 years.

Insights from Other Disciplines

Other disciplines have insights to offer on what it means and what it takes to be a "strong" or "thriving" department. The physics, mathematics and biology communities are currently wrestling with these issues too.

References and Additional Readings

  • Hilborn and Howes, 2003 , Why Many Undergraduate Physics Programs Are Good but Few Are Great, Physics Today 56(9), p38
    What are thriving departments doing that leads to their strong production of undergraduate physics majors in the face of a general decline?
  • Project Kaleidoscope, 2002, Characteristics of the Ideal Department
    This is the follow-up report from Project Kaleidoscope's 2002 Summer Institute. The 'department of the future' was the theme for several of their workshops during that institute.
  • Rossbacher and Rhodes, 2004 , The Department you Save May Be Your Own: Part 1, Geotimes April, 2004.
    This article describes a "two-culture" reality for academic departments: some departments are universally considered to be indispensable, others (including the geosciences) are not. The authors discuss the implications and stress the importance of departments having a plan for their own survival.
  • Rossbacher and Rhodes, 2004 , Building Geology for the Future: Cui bono?, Geotimes September, 2004.
    This article explores what the geologic and scientific communities can do to support geoscience departments so that they do not fall victim to the academic chopping block.
  • Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate Physics (SPIN-UP): Full Report PDF (1.88 Mb)
  • Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate Physics at Two-Year Colleges (SPIN-UP/TYC (more info) )
  • Tucker, 1995 , Models That Work: Case Studies in Effective Undergraduate Mathematics Programs, MAA Notes #38
    This publication is the culminating report of a case studies project aimed at providing a resource for faculty seeking to improve their undergraduate programs. The report summarizes effective practices at a set of mathematics departments who are excelling at attracting and training large numbers of mathematics majors, or preparing students to pursue advance study in mathematics, or preparing future school mathematics teachers, or attracting and training underrepresented groups in mathematics. This notes volume examines the common practices of effective programs, addresses each of the areas where departments excel, and provides site visit reports on ten departments.
  • Wuebbles, D.J., 2005, Tackling Strategies for Thriving Departments, Eos, 86(19), 187-190. (Link to article on AGU website. AGU membership required.)

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