Volume IV: What works, what matters, what lasts

February 6: Linking local efforts to transform STEM departments to efforts of national disciplinary societies

Essays, Stories & Reports:

  • A PKAL Essay - The role of disciplinary societies in shaping today's leaders
    Campus leaders can take advantage of the collective expertise within national disciplinary societies to inform local efforts to build strong disciplinary departments.

  • 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.

Resources from PKAL:

  • 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.

Resources from other sources:

    The American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), the American Institute of Physics (AIP) and the American Physical Society (APS) jointly supported SPIN-UP.

  • National Task Force on Undergraduate Physics
    The National Task Force on Undergraduate Physics undertook the SPIN-UP project to identify salient characteristics of strong undergraduate physics department. The Task Force found that thriving departments have many common characteristics: well-developed and challenging curricula, extensive advising and mentoring, significant opportunities of student-faculty interaction.

  • Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate Physics at Two-Year Colleges (SPIN-UP/TYC)
    Building on the broader SPIN-UP effort, a taskforce of physicists from the two-year college community undertook a similar study, recognizing the importance of the relationship between two- and four-year physics programs in the national effort to attract more students as majors in the field.

    • 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.


  • Use the PKAL Characteristics of the Ideal Department grid as catalyst for discussion during a departmental retreat.
  • Have division-wide discussions about the work of national disciplinary societies tackling the issue of departmental reform; identify commonalities between the disciplines.