Program/Department Development

Jump down to read about work at Thomas Nelson Community College

Reynolds Community College

Goals for change at the program/department level

  • Increase the number of science majors in geology courses at Reynolds
  • Increase final course averages for all students through the use of high impact teaching practices
  • Increase student awareness of geoscience careers


The geology program at Reynolds Community College is small. There is one full-time faculty member and one adjunct faculty. On average, there are five sections of physical and historical geology per semester. Although there are science degree-seeking students in our classes, the majority of students served are non-science majors seeking to complete lab science requirements. Thus, geology courses at Reynolds draw students with significant variation in skill and comfort with science. I made efforts to increase the visibility of geology as a lab science course option through targeted conversations with other science faculty to encourage their advisees to take geology courses, flyer campaigns during registration intervals, and consistent participation in high-impact campus activities, such as the annual Science Night.

I implemented teaching strategies discussed throughout the length of the SAGE 2YC: Faculty as Change Agents project to improve student success. Key examples of these strategies include realignment of assessment activities based on Bloom's taxonomy levels, inclusion of metacognitive reflections at key points in the semester (e.g., day one, after exams, on science identity building assignments), and incorporation of more active learning moments (e.g., use of online quizzes as a just-in-time teaching method, think-pair-shares).

To tackle student awareness of geoscience careers, I incorporated images of diverse geoscientists into lecture slides, and casually added descriptions of subdisciplines of geoscience to lecture content. I created a module for the learning management software for each class, with links to online resources about geoscience careers, professional societies, internships, scholarships, and job opportunities. I added a "scientist spotlight" activity exploring geoscience careers to my physical geology classes. Perhaps most importantly, I encouraged student participation in geoscience conferences, including Southeastern GSA and the Virginia Geological Field Conference, to provide students the opportunity to see how science works.


Since implementing strategies to increase the visibility of geoscience at Reynolds, there has been a 10% increase in enrollment of science majors in my geology classes.

Both prior to and after the implementation of high impact teaching practices highlighted in the Faculty as Change Agents project, successful course completions (percentage of students earning an A, B, or C grade) in my sections have consistently remained around 80%. However, the percentage of students earning A's has increased by 5% and the percentage of students earning C's has declined by 3%, suggesting higher mastery of course content.

Data analyses consistently show about 33% of the students in my courses view the geoscience career module at least once during the course, with students who have expressed an interest in geoscience during one-on-one conversation with me viewing the information multiple times as a resource. Upon completion of the science identity assignment, more students regardless of gender or racial demographic agree with the statement "I can see myself as a scientist" (tests of statistical significance show no change due to small sample size). In the past three years, eight students have attended the SE GSA and VGFC professional development opportunities, with some attending multiple events.

Thomas Nelson Community College

Goals for change at the program/department level

  • Increase use of high-impact teaching practices in all courses (e.g., metacognition, active-learning, building inclusive environments, etc)
  • Increase awareness and use of high-impact teaching strategies for all STEM faculty
  • Increase student awareness of geoscience careers


A number of evidence-based practices have been implemented in our classes since the start of the SAGE project (and all are going to stay!). These include deliberately adding into all of the courses that Pete and I teach the use of exam wrappers, minute-papers, think-pair-share, jigsaw activities, and other active learning strategies. In addition to reformatting class time so that the sessions are more active, Pete and I have also dedicated time during lecture to introduce and discuss study/learning techniques, explain the intention of how we structure and create assignments, and articulate learning objectives more explicitly. These efforts are in an attempt to help students do better academically not just in our geology classes and to help instill meaningful learning strategies applicable to any future academic setting.

Our institutional structure of programs and departments facilitated sharing what we learned through SAGE with faculty from all STEM fields, rather than just geology alone. Pete and I would often share teaching practices and learning strategies with our STEM colleagues through formal and informal avenues, in order to help build a cadre of faculty dedicated to employing evidence-based practices in their classrooms. The formal sessions were primarily offered during our annual on-campus professional development days, and in some cases, our committee assignments lent themselves well to sharing this information, too. Less formal interactions took place during faculty meetings focused on course development, assessment, and program development.

Information about geoscience careers was introduced in a variety of ways and to different degrees across our courses, both those taught by Pete and I, and those taught by adjunct geology faculty. Some faculty created assignments in which students researched careers (including required background, salaries, and typical tasks of the jobs). Others did not create formal, stand-alone assignments, but infused lectures with specific mention of the types of scientists who studied and collected the data that were in the course content. Another effort that was more uniform across faculty was sharing workshop feedback from employers about desired skills for entry level geoscience jobs and general tips about creating resumes and professional conduct. What was notable from the employer feedback was that most valued general good worth ethic and professional habits, rather than specific geoscience content. We felt this was important to share with all students to 1) demystify any notion that geoscience-related careers required advanced degrees in technical fields, and 2) the importance of "basic" professionalism (being trustworthy and honest, independent thinking, taking initiative, critical thinking, etc).


Our greatest successes have been in our classes. We tended to update our classes on an evolving basis, inspired by either having the time or seeing a need to revise course content, therefore, it was difficult to quantify how any particular assignment or intervention impacted a class. Most importantly, our experience with SAGE 2YC activities motivated us to make meaningful changes to our courses (both content and delivery). If not for our involvement, it is unlikely our courses would have been modified to much extent and with research-based techniques. Anecdotally, our interventions have fostered more engagement from students, including an interest in pursuing geoscience careers and a richer learning environment.

Working with our colleagues within the department and the science division have had some successes. While faculty are enthusiastic and interested in what is shared, we also hear that the strategies shared are often not implemented. Reasons for lack of implementation include concerns about reducing coverage of science content and limited time for curriculum redesign.