Current Assessment of the Geology Programs at California State University, Bakersfield

Dirk Baron, Department Geology, California State University, Bakersfield

The geology program at CSUB is a small program at one of the smaller campuses of the CSU system. We currently have four tenure-track faculty, about 45 undergraduate majors and about 12 graduate students. We offer BS and BA Geology undergraduate degrees, as well as a MS Geology degree. We also contribute to the university's general education program as well as the liberal studies major for future elementary school teachers. The university has about 7,500 full-time students.

Our department has long resisted the push for program assessment, discounting it as more busy work and arguing that the grades we give in our classes are sufficient assessment of student learning. Until recently, we have therefore been doing as little as we could get away with. Specifically, we have been tracking the following:

  1. Field Camp – all of our undergraduate BS majors are required to complete a 5-6 summer field camp course as one of their capstone experiences. We have not offered this course for many years so the students have to attend field camps organized by other universities. Everything in our curriculum is required to be successful in field camp. Our students are evaluated by faculty from other universities and compared to students from other universities. The grades in field camp therefore represent a true independent assessment of what our students have learned and they can be compared to those from other departments. We have been tracking the grades in field camp and have also requested feedback from the field camp instructors to identify possible areas of weakness. This data has not only been useful for us, it has also brought us some kudos from various review committees which thought that this is a great example for truly independent assessment.
  2. Alumni – the ultimate test of the value of our degrees is how well they serve our graduates. We are therefore keeping track of their careers after they graduate, including starting salaries, types of careers, and employers. This has the additional benefits of supporting our alumni outreach and our recruitment efforts. We are developing alumni highlights that give prospective students an overview of the career pathways our degrees open up.

When I became department chair in 2007, I realized that a well though-out assessment program could help us (1) improve the effectiveness of our programs, (2) demonstrate their worth to the university and the community, and (3) support recruitment of new majors. We are now developing surveys for graduating students and working on assessment for some of our larger majors classes including Physical Geology, Environmental Geology, and Hydrogeology. We are also planning to survey employers of our graduates to determine how well our programs have prepared them for their careers.

As part of a school-wide effort to assess our general education offerings, we have recently developed and implemented an assessment program for our lower division and upper division general education classes (which include two majors classes, namely Physical Geology and Environmental Geology). The main assessment tools are embedded exam questions which are aligned with the goals and objectives of the natural science part of the general education program.