Roles and Responsibilities of Current Leaders

How can such a collaborating community be realized? How can leaders be energized? How can new generations of leaders be identified and nurtured? What are roles and responsibilities of the present generation of faculty and administrative leaders in this process?

Senior academic officers, including deans and chairs at the divisional and departmental level, have many roles to play in the work of reforming and transforming undergraduate STEM programs in ways that serve the institutional purpose. A primary responsibility is to see that the right questions are on the table at the right time throughout the process. A community that has a clear understanding of the students of today, and of the future world in which they will live and work is one that begins by asking questions to understand the idiosyncratic features of their environment and the larger context for their work, questions such as:

  • who are our students, what are their strengths, their habits of mind, their background and career aspirations?

  • who are the students pursuing majors in STEM fields, who are the students we serve with majors in fields beyond STEM?

  • what is the relationship between efforts in STEM departments/programs to strengthen student learning and the work of the broader campus community concerned about the quality of student learning?

  • what is our collective vision for student learning on this campus?

  • are our current faculty and curricula, program and facilities able to support that vision?

  • what is the contextual strength of our institution?

  • what is our institutional niche in the nation's higher education infrastructure?

The dean/chair facilitates and negotiates, persuades and supports, and argues wisely on behalf of student learning in conversations about programs– past, present and future. In general, the responsibility of senior academic administrators is to use the influence of the office to accomplish objectives– consistent with institutional priorities– that individual faculty or departments could not achieve on their own. They thus need the wisdom to know which roles to play and when, and when it is best just simply to smile and get out of the way.

Their responsibilities are to:

Understand the nature and needs of strong 21st century undergraduate STEM program in the context of institution-wide planning:

  • visit classrooms and labs to gain first-hand exposure to the value of learning by doing

  • consider the investment needed in time, talent and resources, short-term and long-term, to ensure first-rate learning opportunities for all students

  • recognize how different students (majors and non-majors, from groups under-represented in the study and practice of science and engineering, with different levels of preparation) are to be served by your program

  • imagine, with colleagues within and beyond the campus, different future scenarios for your learning community that outline ways to serve students, science and society more effectively.

Encourage innovation and improvement in learning and teaching:

  • create a climate where curricular innovation is seen to be a logical next move, asking faculty to:
    • review current curriculum, considering both what is taught and how it is taught
    • look broadly at the needs of all students, majors and non-majors
    • set short- and long-term goals for exploring and developing new programs
  • provide incentives of time and money to facilitate the process of curriculum review, suggesting an appropriate time-frame for the work, including a summer if possible
  • see that sufficient and appropriate institutional data are available for the reformers
  • ensure that many voices and perspective are heard, including those of respected experts from off-campus and early- career faculty as well as senior scholars.

Encourage adapting and building on the work of others:

  • support ‘bench-marking' visits to learn what works in other settings
  • facilitate and participate in discussions of provocative papers about the new directions in how science is practiced, about new societal expectations of higher education, about pressures on the academy caused by new student demographics
  • encourage the brain-storming that encourages and respects multiple and competing ideas
  • help campus leaders see how they can solve a local problem by adapting and reshaping a novel idea emerging from the work of others while exploiting the idiosyncratic features of their campus community.

Help pilot projects take root and flourish:

  • find one or two small projects to experiment with the process of change
  • provide funds for necessary equipment and/or time for faculty to gain expertise with new pedagogies
  • request a substantive evaluation of the pilot to determine effect on student learning, institutional culture and budget, as well as its feasibility for the long-term
  • have ‘pilot project' faculty share their experiences with colleagues within and beyond the institution.

Support the search for resources to enable the project to persist:

  • consider the reallocation of existing internal funds
  • integrate planning for new programs with planning for other institutional needs for program, facilities and financial support
  • establish administrative structures that bolster efforts of faculty and departments to be competitive in the search for external support.

Keep the focus on the quality and character of student learning:

  • negotiate with departments and with curriculum committees to ensure that each student, at each stage of his or her academic career, has access to the right mix of discovery-based, research-rich programs that lead to the success of that student.
    • see that there is adequate support, appropriate spaces and experienced faculty for the introductory courses so that early-on there is a heavy dose of open-ended, investigative activities within a community. (If students are not engaged during the first year, they seldom persist)
    • see that programs designed for majors have an appropriate balance between theory and practice, foster the skills of both independent and collaborative work and prepare them well for life and work upon graduation
    • see that there are multiple points of entry for students to consider majoring in a STEM field.
  • bring an awareness and understanding of research on how people learn into the development and assessment of institutional programs
    • support Learning/Teaching Center activities that bring advances in cognitive science into discussions about course and lab development
    • connect the institutional research officer to discussions about course and lab development
    • provide opportunities for faculty in education and the disciplinary departments to identify and discuss issues of common interest and concern.
  • establish coherent and consistent mechanisms to measure the quality and character of student learning.
    • support activities within the Learning/Teaching Center that inform faculty about best practices in assessment and evaluation
    • connect the capacity of departments/programs to meet goals for student learning to their annual budget review
    • set institution-wide goals for student learning that can shape practices at the departmental and programmatic level.

Address needs, expectations and dreams of faculty:

  • understand that developing faculty is not only hiring right, but getting everyone to blossom in a career that is personally satisfying and that contributes to the strength of the program.

    This requires attention to:
    • having adequate resources available to enhance and advance scholarly careers
      • mentors within and beyond the department/program
      • internal faculty development funds
      • internal assistance in preparing competitive proposals for securing external grants
      • contacts with colleagues at other academic institutions, within industry, K-12 community.
    • identifying scholarly interests and pursuits of each individual faculty, including if/where he or she is:
      • on the agenda for review and tenure
      • on the timetable for sabbatical eligibility
      • in his/her research (beginning, middle, end of a major project)
      • involved with disciplinary or interdisciplinary curriculum reform efforts
      • involved in collaborative efforts with communities beyond the campus.
    • taking time for:
      • encouraging each faculty member to prepare a three-year professional agenda, outlining ideas about what s/he would like to achieve in teaching, research, service
      • challenging colleagues to answer the big questions: what difference will this make and to whom' in outlining their ideas and agendas
      • determining steps that can be taken collectively to support agendas of individual faculty
      • linking agendas of individual faculty to larger goals (persisting and new) at the departmental, programmatic and institutional level.

In all of this, there is a responsibility to make institutional transformation an engaging intellectual exercise and experience.