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Plants, Soils and Climate Assessment

Mission

Our mission is to support the Land-Grant mandate through teaching, research, and outreach programs involving the physical, chemical, and biological mechanisms that operate in the continuum of the soil, plant, and atmosphere. These goals are reflected in the structure of the Department.

Teaching

We provide quality educational programs and curricula that help students learn their discipline, relation to other disciplines, and serve the needs of their clientele.  In addition, to provide continuing education programs for life-long learning.

Research

Basic and applied research activities put us on the cutting edge of science to provide support for the agricultural industries, agencies, and others relying on plant, soil, environmental, and climatological/biometeorological information in the state of Utah, the region, nation, and world.

Outreach

Through USU Extension, we operate effective and efficient programs that extend research-based information to all clientele, both rural and urban, within the state of Utah.

Undergraduate Assessment—Learning Objectives

Assessment data pertaining to each learning objective can be viewed by clicking on the Outcomes Data page link. General program assessment data are available in the Undergraduate Outcomes page.

Bachelor of Science in Plant Science

  • Articulate the disciplines and programs in the Plants, Soils, and Climate Department. Outcomes Data Page 1
  • Evaluate the physical, biological and chemical principles underlying the management of crops and soils important to the discipline of interest. This includes identification of species, crop improvement, cultural requirements, plant genetics and physiology, soil management, and pest management.  Outcomes Data page 2
  • Assess the physical, biological, mineralogical, and chemical properties of our soil resources. Outcomes Data Page 3
  • Gain hands on experience in a field related to their degree. Outcomes Data Page 4

Bachelor of Science in Residential Landscape Design & Construction (RLDC):

  • Articulate the disciplines and programs in the Plants, Soils, and Climate Department. Outcomes Data Page 1
  • Evaluate the principals underlying the management of plants and soil used in landscape horticulture. This includes identification of species, cultural requirements, soil management, and pest management. Outcomes Data page 2
  • Gain hands on experience in a field related to their degree. Outcomes Data Page 4
  • Design residential landscapes for sustainability. Outcomes Data Page 5
  • Demonstrate knowledge of landscape irrigation system principles and design, and concepts and procedures of landscape construction. Outcomes Data Page 6
  • Learn the basic principles of small business management as they apply to the landscape horticulture industry. Outcomes Data Page 7

Bachelor of Science in Horticulture (offered in the off-campus program)

  • Articulate the disciplines and programs in the Plants, Soils, and Climate Department. Outcomes Data Page 1
  • Evaluate the physical, biological and chemical principles underlying the management of crops and soils important to the discipline of interest. This includes identification of species, crop improvement, cultural requirements, plant genetics and physiology, soil management, and pest management. Outcomes Data Page 2
  • Assess the physical, biological, mineralogical, and chemical properties of our soil resources. Outcomes Data Page 3
  • Gain hands on experience in a field related to their degree. Outcomes Data Page 4

Bachelor of Science in Land, Plant, and Climate Systems:

  • Articulate the disciplines and programs in the Plants, Soils, and Climate Department. Outcomes Data Page 1
  • Assess the physical, biological, mineralogical, and chemical properties of our soil resources. Outcomes Data Page 3
  • Evaluate the principals underlying the management of plants and soil used in agricultural production. This includes identification of species, cultural requirements, plant physiology, soil management, and pest management.Outcomes Data Page 2
  • Summarize the physics and dynamics of the Earth's climate in the balanced state, what processes alter this balance, and the impact of the changing climate on weather and hydrological cycles. Outcomes Data Page 8
  • Gain hands on experience in a field related to their degree. Outcomes Data Page 4

Associate of Applied Science in Ornamental Horticulture

  • Articulate the properties of our soil resources relating to horticulture crops. Outcomes Data Page 3
  • Demonstrate knowledge of managing of plants in agricultural production. This includes identification of species, cultural requirements, soil management, and pest management. Outcomes Data Page 2
  • Demonstrate knowledge of landscape irrigation system principles and design, and concepts and procedures of landscape construction. Outcomes Data Page 6

Certificate in Landscape Management:

  • Summarize and demonstrate introductory principals of managing plants in landscapes. Outcomes Data Page 2
  • Demonstrate knowledge of plumbing and electrical systems used in outdoor landscapes. Outcomes Data Page 9

Assessment Plan

In the PSC department, we strive to make sure our students are receiving cutting-edge knowledge from experts in their fields of study using teaching the appropriate classes, and using innovative and effective teaching practices. To achieve that, assessment efforts are continuous and varied in type to provide feedback on how students advance in what they need to master (learning objectives). Outcomes data are analyzed and reviewed by department faculty regularly to put improvements (data-based decisions) into practice. The tools we use to gather information to make decisions include:

  • Student evaluation of courses.
  • Course embedded assessments of specific knowledge areas.
  • Internship reports from employers and students.
  • External certification exams.
  • Exit interviews.
  • Involvement in faculty research, presentations, and publications.
  • Participation in clubs and other extra curricular activities.
  • Time-to-graduation and graduation rates.
  • Placement of graduates.

Discussion and consideration by department faculty is initiating new plans for our assessment process. Several Outcomes Data information pages reference these plans which may need adjustment as we learn their effectiveness.

Undergraduate Outcomes Data

Overall evaluation of PSC Course effectiveness

Quality of teaching and general meeting of course objectives are evaluated using the IDEA database—evaluations by students of courses and instructors (Figure 1). Classes in the PSC department are at and above the IDEA System averages for courses. For specific categories of evaluation, our courses average 52% similar to the IDEA averages and 36% of courses higher than averages. Only 12% were lower than average according to the student evaluation database. Our student evaluations rank slightly higher yet when compared to USU averages.

Figure 1. A histogram of PSC course evaluation scores (IDEA data) from 2012-2015. Each box represents one course with dark shaded boxes higher enrollment courses and lighter shaded boxes, lower enrollment. The gray shaded area is the average range of IDEA database scores. Courses to the right are above average course evaluations and courses to the left are below those averages.

Spring Semster Course Averages

Fall Semster Course Averages

First year retention and graduation rate

In general, PSC performs above average at USU in terms of retaining students after their first year of study and in graduation rates of students by six years.

Table 1. 1st year retention and 6-yr graduation rate for undergraduate students in PSC majors (from the AAA website):

 First-Year Retention Rates (Fall Cohort) 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
  100.0% 77.8% 100.0% 66.7% 100.0%
 Six Year Retention Rates (Fall Cohort)* 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
  50.0% 60.0% 72.7% 75.0% 60.0%

Individual course/objective assessment

Exit survey and interpretation

To the current time, graduating students were surveyed in person to gauge what PSC is doing well and what it needs to improve on. These exit surveys will be increased in coming years with the use of a more comprehensive online survey too plus a sample of in person interviews.

Exit surveys since 2009 have identified numerous items that show effectiveness of our programs and some places to improve:

  • More organized mentoring of undergraduate students. Ad-hoc mentoring is effective for some as a number of students specifically highlighted faculty that had significant impact and direction on their programs. See Table 2 below. Clearly, faculty play an important role in mentorship and we plan to improve on this. While that advising has been excellent, the students require additional advising specific to their discipline. This is an area of student advising we will be exploring.
  • The most frequent single comment related to the need for more hands-on experiences in courses (12% surveyed in 2010 to 2015).
  • Students frequently comment on the approachability of our faculty and willingness to take time to ensure questions are answered, depth of subjects are explored, and to provide career advice. Of those 78 surveyed, 12 specifically indicated friendliness, helpfulness, interest in students’ needs.

Table 2. Exit interview summary: students indicating that the education/experience met their expectations

Year

Interviewed

Met Expectations

Received Good Mentorship

Received good mentorship by other students

Received good mentorship by faculty

Did not receive good mentorship

 

Number of Students

2010

16

16

3

4

2

8

2011

19

19

2

1

3

13

2012

18

15

3

2

4

12

2013

15

14

1

 

 

13

2015

10

9

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Total

78

73

9

7

9

46

Responses included in “met expectations” included: “Exceeded”, “Yes”, “Yes-mostly”, and “Almost”.

Placement data

Possibly the best evaluation of academic programs for preparing students for careers in their chosen field is placement rate in employment. According to 2013-2014 data, 92% of our students are employed in their careers or are continuing in their education. PSC is continuing to provide students with resources aiding their employment search, primarily through Career Services but also through faculty mentorship and quality advising.

Outcomes data specific to learning objectives can be viewed by “clicking” on objective in the Undergraduate Learning Objectives section.

Undergraduate Data-based Decisions

New degrees or changes in degrees were based on data and comments by students and alumni.

  • Based on an external review of the department and student interest in having disciplines more integrated, a Land, Plant, and Climate Systems major was developed, approved, and is starting Fall 2015.
    • This major offers an integrative approach. Foundational courses provide students with an understanding of the physical, chemical, and biological processes that occur at the earth’s surface. Students then choose from among the three emphases: Sustainable Food Production, Environmental Soil Science, or Applied Climatology.
  • Placement data and student interviews have indicated that the majority of the students in the off-campus majors are interested in urban landscape related careers or horticulture crop production. As a result, the Horticulture major was designed, approved, and initiated in 2015 for off-campus students only.
  • In 2014, PSC hired a dedicated lecturer based in Salt Lake City. This person’s responsibility is teaching and program management with Regional Campuses. This hire was in response to strong growth in the program and the need to increase teaching based where those students are.
  • A one-year certificate in conjunction with Salt Lake Community College was developed and approved in 2016 for the off-campus program.
    • This program targets a wide range of students to acquire marketable skills in the workforce in Utah and specifically the landscape industry. The rapidly growing urban population is creating a large need for more expertise and experience in this area.
    • This also offers the first step in stackable credentials towards an AAS and also a BS degree.
  • Climate Science undergraduate bachelors degree will be available beginning Spring 2017.
    • Scientific interest in climate science and climate change science on campus and around the world has indicated the need for a bachelors degree program in Climate Science. This is a natural outgrowth of the graduate program in Climate Science already present in our department.
  • In 2015-2016, in response to the value that undergraduate research experiences represent towards a student’s education, PSC devoted research award funding from the college towards funding undergraduate research opportunities. Six were funded the first year. This program will be continued in coming years.
  • Items identified in student interviews and responses.
    • Several requests for more landscape design courses—Since that time, an advanced landscape design class (PSC 4302) has been added as well as a class focusing on Low-water Landscape Design (PSC 5090).
    • Some requests for a statistics course that is designed for PSC students. We have initiated the development of an online course focused on agriculture students’ needs.
    • Negative comments several years ago about advising in the department prompted movement of those advising activities to the college level. This college advising center has been a great success. Many student comments since have highlighted the quality advising and mentorship from this group, particularly our specified advisor for PSC students.
    • Exit interviews identified the need for more hands-on experience in courses. This is a priority now to develop in coursework.

Graduate Learning Objectives

The department offers 9 graduate degrees:

  • Masters of Science and Doctor of Philosophy in Climate Science
  • Masters of Science and Doctor of Philosophy in Plant Science
  • Masters of Science and Doctor of Philosophy in Soil Science
  • Masters of Science and Doctor of Philosophy in Ecology
  • Masters of Professional Studies in Horticulture

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Climate Science, Plant Science, Soil Science, or Ecology

The PhD programs in PSC are research-based degrees. Students apply and are accepted into the program when a member of the faculty agrees to serve as major professor. Students are usually funded by that professor for their research work. A plan of study and research proposal is developed and agreed upon between the student and their supervisory committee. Satisfactory knowledge of the student’s general subject area is determined by a comprehensive (or preliminary, or qualifying) exam given by the supervisory committee. The student’s research will also be defended, an original and significant dissertation prepared, and the research published in the academic literature.

Masters of Science (MS) in Climate Science, Plant Science, Soil Science, or Ecology

The MS programs in PSC are research-based degrees (Plan A degrees). Students apply and are accepted into the program when a member of the faculty agrees to serve as major professor. Students are usually funded by that professor for their research work. A plan of study and research proposal is developed and agreed upon between the student and their supervisory committee. The student’s research and subject knowledge will be defended and an original and significant thesis prepared. In many cases it is expected that the thesis research will be published in the academic literature.

Master of Professional Studies in Horticulture (MPSH)

The MPSH degree is a professional degree program consisting mostly classwork with a meaningful internship or capstone project experience. Students apply and are accepted into the program after review by the MPSH supervisory committee. A plan of study is developed and agreed upon between the student and their supervisory committee. This is a fully online degree program.

Learning objectives for PhD and MS Plan A degrees

  • Develop a deep and critical understanding and curiosity of all things relating to the student’s field of study and related disciplines.
  • To practice and master scientific research including:
    • analysis of the scientific literature,
    • research methods,
    • data analysis,
    • interpretation to create new knowledge in the chosen discipline,
    • present and defend that knowledge,
    • and conduct those activities in an ethical manner.

Learning Objectives for Master of Professional Horticultural Studies degree

  • Articulate current water policies and how these relate to landscape water conservation.
  • Explain and demonstrate how plant physiology, irrigation technology, landscape design and human behavior interact and affect landscape choices and water used.
  • Assess current and new water conservation strategies.
  • Practice verbal, written and graphic communication skills to promote water conservation in the landscape to a variety of audiences.

Graduate Outcomes Data

Assessment Plan

In the PSC department, we strive to make sure our students are receiving cutting-edge knowledge from experts in their fields of study using innovative and effective teaching practices. To achieve that, assessment efforts are continuous and aim to provide feedback on how students advance compared to learning objectives. Outcomes data are analyzed and reviewed by department faculty regularly to put improvements (data-based decisions) into practice. The tools we use to gather information to make decisions include:

  • The graduate committee, program director, and the department head monitor the progress and performance of graduate students.
    • Students who fail to meet academic standards are put on probation and a plan to bring performance up is created by the major advisor and student.
  • Presentations at scientific meetings (Methods to accurately track these are being developed.)
  • Papers published from graduate research (Methods to accurately track these are being developed.)
  • Exit interviews
  • Placement of graduates

Outcomes Data

  • Numbers of graduate students have increased 20% since 2009 and steady since 2012. Student numbers in most cases are dependent on availability of external grant support.
  • Nearly all our PhD and MS students present at scientific meetings at least once in their career and usually twice or more. This experience prepares students for academic and industry research careers in basic and applied sciences, prepares educators for academic teaching (traditional classroom and online) and Extension programming/public outreach efforts as Extension specialists and related roles.
  • Placement rates for graduate students are very high, although specific data for graduate students was not available at this time. Average salaries for those positions were among the highest in the college in 2014-2015.

Graduate Data-based Decisions

  • The Masters of Professional Horticultural Studies (MPSH) degree has been offered for several years as a one-year professional MS degree. Currently it requires residence on the Logan Campus, which has limited the number of people able to enroll. At the request of many students, this program began as a fully online MS degree offering in Spring 2016.
  • Based on the request for this one-year MS degree and distance offerings in general, we are exploring additional MS programs that could be offered through online delivery.