Volume IV: What works, what matters, what lasts



  • A report from the undergraduate physics community
    - Robert Hilborn, Professor of Physics - Amherst College
    Three national physics societies, with support from the ExxonMobil Foundation, collaborated in identifying how certain undergraduate physics departments are achieving success in increasing the numbers, persistence and success of students. The chair of the project (Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate Physics: SPINUP), Robert Hilborn of Amherst College, reports on their findings: that what works is a challenging but supportive academic program, strong and sustained departmental leadership, with continuing experimentation and evaluation built into the process of curricular transformation.

  • 2002 PKAL Summer Institute:
    Characteristics of the Ideal Department
    A tool for internal analysis of departmental strength and weakness was devised at the 2002 PKAL Summer Institute. The "Characteristics of the Ideal Department" grid outlines the various aspects of a strong department– from the existence of a statement of mission to the presence of a talented administrative assistant.

  • Departmental Transformation: A Case Study - University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
    - Gubbi Sudhakaran, Professor and Chair, Department of Physics- University of Wisconsin-La Crosse
    This case study was presented at the PKAL 2002 Summer Institute in sessions organized by the National Task Force on Undergraduate Physics.

  • The Gainsville College story
    - J. B. Sharma, Professor Physics, Gainesville College
    One case study from the SPIN-UP/TYC report is from the work of J.B. Sharma, Professor of Physics at Gainesville College in Georgia, which includes an active Society of Physics Students (SPS) which brings students into the physics community on the campus and keeps them engaged. Dr. Sharma is a member of the PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century and serves on the PKAL Phase IV Steering Committee.

  • The American Council on Education's Department Chair Online Resource Center
    Since November 1999, the American Council on Education (ACE) has offered workshops and provided extensive resources "for those heading departments or programs and for administrators who work with department leaders;" this work is coordinated by Irene W. D. Hecht, ACE Director Department Leadership Programs.

  • A PKAL Essay - Building a vital department
    - Jeanne L. Narum, Director- Project Kaleidoscope
    Many times a voice from outside the department is necessary to evaluate what is not working. Consultants do not carry institutional baggage and their credibility might encourage all faculty to speak out and encourage openness to new ideas.

  • A Synthesis of Recommendations from Keck/PKAL Consultancies: Dealing with Dysfunctional Departments
    - From Keck/PKAL Consultancies
    (Over the past several years, more than 100 colleges and universities involved with PKAL have used the Keck/PKAL Consultant program to help their community overcome challenges to building a vital department.)
    Identifying what does not work is sometimes as important to efforts to build strong STEM departments and programs as knowing what works (see stories posted 02/06/04 from the undergraduate physics project SPIN-UP). Most problems facing departmental leaders have been identified and addressed in other settings: attrition after first-year courses; little or no administrative support; "ownership" of specific courses. Bringing an outside voice to the discussions is sometimes helpful, as illustrated by this report summarized from several Keck/PKAL consultancies.

  • Situation: A chemistry department sought to increase visibility and enrollments.

    • Analyze the relationship between curriculum, advising and student perception of the science program.
    • See that institutional support for faculty and students involved in undergraduate research is demonstrated in tangible ways.
    • Connect faculty to intriguing and successful pedagogical approaches on other campuses that are reversing attrition, and recognize this work as a scholarly activity.

  • Situation: The curriculum of this biology department was incoherent.

  • Departmental Matrix - Clarity about the scope and sequence of departmental offerings
    - Mary Savina, et al., Geology Department - Carleton College
    Having departmental conversations about where students learn what, brings coherence to the academic program.

  • Adapted from PKAL's F21 Members
    What works - A PKAL essay
    Examining the unexpected challenges facing departmental chairs
    It is of paramount importance for institutions to recognize the importance of departmental chairs and to cultivate their leadership abilities.

  • What works - An essay
    Hiring new faculty: logistics, landmines and life-preservers for the department chair
    - Elizabeth S. Boylan, Provost & Dean of the Faculty - Barnard College
    One of the most significant challenges a department chair faces involves the leadership of the process by which a new member of the department is recruited, hired and integrated into the local academic community.

  • What works - A handbook for faculty and administrators
    10 Principles of Good Practice: Supporting Early-Career Faculty
    This document includes: "ten principles of good practice; inventories to prompt department chairs, senior colleagues, and other academic leaders to examine their individual and institutional practices; and examples of concrete and innovative approaches to good practice being tried out now in a variety of institutional settings."

  • What matters - A PKAL essay
    Planning, leadership and community
    - Adapted from PKAL Volume I - What Works: Building Natural Science Communities
    The process of reaching a campus consensus on the shape of programs and/or spaces for the future of undergraduate STEM programs in itself can create a healthy community, one that is informed about, sympathetic with, and supportive of, a strong science program.