Building Strong Departments > Workshops > Strengthening Your Geoscience Program > Participants and their Contributions > Central Michigan University

Central Michigan University Department of Geology

by Marty Baxter, Jodi Ryder, and Patrick Kinnicutt

The department contains 11.5 tenure track faculty, with 3 in meteorology, 8 in geology, and .5 in science informatics. In addition, the department has 4.5 non-tenure track faculty. The department offers undergraduate major and minor programs in Geology and Meteorology with thesis and non-thesis options. The department also offers a concentration in Hydrogeology/Environmental Geology and contributes heavily towards Integrated Science, Environmental Studies, and Earth Science majors. The Meteorology program left the Geography department to join with the Geology program in the Fall of 2008.

The department has grown over the past 6 years from 4 faculty to its current state. Both the meteorology and geology programs have solid reputations in teaching, research and service, providing an undergraduate-only program where most of the students either continue on for graduate studies or successfully find employment in a geoscience position. The department encourages and promotes curricular development amongst the faculty. The meteorology program is currently the only undergraduate meteorology program in Michigan. The geology program, while maintaining its classical tradition, has added new courses in geostatistics and engineering geology and discussion of new courses continues. The department also strongly encourages faculty to attend pedagogical workshops, and has actively been using collaborative teaching techniques and modern technologies in its courses. Many opportunities for undergraduates to participate in research exist in the department. Undergraduate students regularly present at national and international conferences, and students have won numerous awards for their research. The department has some of the most rigorous scholarly expectations in the college even though it is the only undergraduate-only department. Faculty have also received numerous grants from major agencies such as NSF and have been active in their professional communities. In professional service, faculty have been involved in activities such as chairing conference sessions, reviewing grant proposals and journal papers, and serving as editor or assistant editor. The faculty also participate heavily in college and university shared governance. All the faculty are actively involved in all of the above activities, with everyone pulling their share. Historically, the department has self-governed itself as a committee of the whole, with everyone serving on all the departmental committees.

The department, while very strong, has recognized weaknesses which we are attempting to address. The department has a low number of majors relative to the number of faculty, with all faculty teaching service-level courses to maintain the department's budget. Recruitment of students has been an ongoing concern in geology, and significantly impacts the number of upper-level course offerings that can be offered during a given semester. Research expectations in the university have increased during the past 5 years, with no reduction in teaching load (3-3) or service expectations to compensate. As the university operates under the student credit hour model, the development of interdisciplinary programs and cross-listed courses is mired in interdepartmental politics.

With the merger of the Meteorology and Geology programs, challenges exist in leveraging the strength of each individual program to raise the level of the department. The faculty believe that by starting a new program in hydrology, the expertise of both meteorology and geology faculty can be combined into a program that serves our student population effectively. A hydrology program fits well with the interests of many of the faculty in the department, and would serve the student population who want to stay in Michigan, as there are few hydrology programs anywhere in the country. One major issue the department is grappling with concerns how the new program can effectively start without financial support from the administration; we believe the addition of one new faculty member would be necessary to start the new program.

A new department self-study is in the works which incorporates the addition of the meteorology program. Both programs have active program assessment plans in place. In planning the future direction of the department, the faculty have contacted departments that have similar programmatic structures, and have integrated meteorology and geology programs. In addition, the department recently held an alumni summit to discuss the relationship between future directions of the department and the current state of the geosciences field. In the Fall of 2009, external evaluators will examine the most appropriate structure for an Earth Science major given the fact that both the Geography and Geology departments offer earth science related coursework. The external review of Earth Science was initiated by the Dean's office, while the proposed hydrology major was initiated by the Geology department faculty. It will be a challenge for all vested parties to define the best solution for the college and university in the face of diminishing resources.