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 Programs Learning objectives

Plant Science Major

  • Be familiar with the different disciplines and programs in the Plants, Soils, and Climate Department, and to explore opportunities for students and eventual employment using degrees offered through PSC.
  • Know the physical, biological, mineralogical, and chemical properties responsible for making soil a precious natural resource
  • Understand principles and concepts associated with weed science and applying this knowledge in solving weed management problems.
    A. Horticulture and Cropping Systems Core
    • Gain hands on experience in a field related to their degree.
    • Understand the elements required for plant growth, be familiar with the visual symptoms and methods to identify nutrient deficiencies, understand how nutrients are supplied to plants from the soil, evaluate and calculate fertilizer needs.
    • Estimate variance components related to populations with quantitative traits; Describe the progression within a modern breeding program from the setting of breeding objectives, to the commercialization. Describe methods used in plant breeding and determine which are appropriate for objectives and situations.
    • Understand basic concepts of pest management andability to pass the State of Utah Commercial Pesticide Applicator's Exam.
    • Identification and basic cultural requirements of many important herbaceous plants used in gardens, landscapes and interiorscapes.
    • Identification and basic cultural requirements of many important trees and shrubs in the Intermountain West.
    • Learn the principles and basic production practices of organic farming systems.
    • Applied management of woody ornamental trees and shrubs in the landscape.
    • Understand principals and practice techniques to propagate plants of economic value.
    • To appreciate the biology of the turfgrass plant, the turfgrass environment, and learn the principles of managing turfgrasses in a sustainable manner.
    • Understand construction, maintenance, and operation of physical facilities required for controlled environment plant production (i.e. a greenhouse). Understand the physiological basis of plant propagation techniques in the greenhouse and to practice those techniques to develop a crop.
    • Understand floral biology and fruit development and know how this information is exploited in commercial fruit production. Understand the basic concepts of yield physiology and carbon partitioning as related to perennial fruit crops and their production systems. Be familiar with the technology related to fruit production. Appreciate the diversity of temperate fruit crops and the diversity of management practices used in their production.
    • Understand principles and practices of field crop (agronomic crops) production.
    • Fundamentals of forage production in the Intermountain West.  Emphasis is on crop production practices, forage management, and forage quality.
    • Recognize, understand, and describe the components of a productive modern vegetable production system; understand harvest and post-harvest quality control. Identify and classify vegetables by plant family and understand how features of each family influences production. Assessing sustainability of a vegetable production system. Communicate key requirements to successfully grow vegetables in a garden or commercial farm.
    • Utilization of cereals for food with emphasis qualities that make them important to us as foods and the processing that is used to produce the foods we eat.

RLDC Major

  • Be familiar with the different disciplines and programs in the Plants, Soils, and Climate Department, and to explore opportunities for students and eventual employment using degrees offered through PSC.
  • Be familiar with the basic science of horticulture, including the applied activities involved in landscaping and gardening.
  • Understanding of basic concepts of pest management andability to pass the State of Utah Commercial Pesticide Applicator's Exam.
  • Identification and basic cultural requirements of many important herbaceous plants used in gardens, landscapes and interiorscapes.
  • Identification and basic cultural requirements of many important trees and shrubs in the Intermountain West.
  • Know the physical, biological, mineralogical, and chemical properties responsible for making soil a precious natural resource
  • Introduction to the landscape design process as it applies to the development of a residential planting plan.
  • Applied management of woody ornamental trees and shrubs in the landscape.
  • Know landscape irrigation system components, practice irrigation system design, and understand basic hydraulics as they relate to landscape irrigation system design.
  • Learn the basic concepts, terms, and procedures involved in many of the common areas of landscape construction.
  • Learn the basic principles of small business management as they apply to the landscape horticulture industry including financial reports, calculate landscape estimates and bids, and understanding employee relationships, training, and evaluations.
  • Understand structure, development, and physiology of economically significant horticultural and agronomic crop plants and relation to their environment, cultivation and use.
  • Appreciate the biology of the turfgrass plant, the turfgrass environment, and learn the principles of managing turfgrasses in a sustainable manner.
  • Gaining hands on experience in a field related to their degree.
  • Use CAD software to design residential landscapes.
  • Study and practice advanced concepts in residential landscape design and considering environmentally responsive site planning and professional presentation.
  • To understand causes of soil degradation and the processes used to reclaim degraded natural and constructed soils
  • Learn and practice comprehensive site analysis of urban landscapes with emphasis on mindful plant arrangement and selection for minimal irrigation and maintenance.
  • Understand principles and concepts associated with weed science and applying this knowledge in solving weed management problems.

Land, Plant, and Climate Systems Major

  • Learn the principles and basic production practices of organic farming systems.
  • Know the physical, biological, mineralogical, and chemical properties responsible for making soil a precious natural resource
  • Understand of structure, development, and physiology of economically significant horticultural and agronomic crop plants and relation to their environment, cultivation and use.
  • Relate the history of genetic inquiry and plant breeding to modern issues and techniques in plant genetic improvement; Introduce students to the principles of plant reproduction and understand the consequences within plant improvement schemes of the different modes of plant reproduction; Understand Mendelian genetics and population genetics related to selection.
  • Learn 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.
  • Understand principles and concepts associated with weed science and applying this knowledge in solving weed management problems.
  • Gain hands on experience in a field related to their degree.
  • Understand elements required for plant growth, be familiar with the visual symptoms and methods to identify nutrient deficiencies, understand how nutrients are supplied to plants from the soil, evaluate and calculate fertilizer needs.

Agricultural Coursework

  • Identify definitions of sustainability, common misconceptions of sustainability, and key principles of sustainability.
  • Understand the relationship of values to sustainability; how values influence sustainability goals; and how values affect sustainability monitoring. Be able critically to evaluate sustainability goals and monitoring; Understand the role of energy and other resources in sustainability; how resource use and/or conservation affect sustainability outcomes; and how technological innovation affects sustainability; Learn how sustainability emerges from peoples’ efforts to solve major problems.
  • Gain experience in gathering consumer & marketplace insights to develop strategic marketing skills. Practice in performing various marketing tasks; qualitative and quantitative analysis; critical thinking; and business acume

Graduate Programs Learning Objectives

  1. To educate future science researchers and professionals in research methods. The objectives are similar for plant science students, soil science students, climate science students, and combinations of the three.
  2. Develop a deep understanding and curiosity of all things relating to the student’s field of study and related disciplines.
  3. Prepare students for academic and industry research careers in basic and applied sciences, prepare educators for academic teaching (traditional classroom and online) and Extension programming/public outreach efforts as extension specialists.

 
Assessment Plan

Undergraduate

There are many effective and diverse methods to assess the quality of our undergraduate programs in PSC. These include:

  • Effective courses as measured through student evaluation of courses (IDEA),
  • Involvement in faculty research
  • Time-to-graduation and graduation rates
  • Student and alumni assessments of program quality such as student interviews.
  • Placement of graduates
  • Acceptance into graduate programs,
  • External review and self-study (External department review and faculty retreat discussions)

Graduate

Several methods are useful to measure the quality of our graduate programs in PSC. These are different than the undergraduate programs and different among the graduate programs because of unique aspects of the disciplines.

  • The graduate committee, program director, and the department head monitor the progress and performance of graduate students.
    • Applicants to the department are tracked for GPA, GRE, and TOEFL scores.
    • 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.
  • Presentation at scientific meetings
  • Papers published from graduate research
  • Exit interviews
  • Placement of graduates

Outcomes Data

  • IDEA evaluations of courses and students
    • Classes in the PSC department are at and above the IDEA System averages for courses. These are summaries of student course evaluations across the PSC department. For specific categories of evaluation, our courses average 52% similar to the IDEA database and 36% higher than average. Only 12% were lower than average according to the student evaluation database. Our student evaluations rank yet slightly higher when compared to USU averages.

  • Exit Survey Summaries
    • 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. However an equal number did not specify any specific mentoring relationships. This we believe is a natural outcome of the professional advising center. 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.

    • Some courses were mentioned more frequently than others in favorite or least favorite categories. Peer-review of courses along with continued study of IDEA evaluations will help identify and improve all courses in the department. An on-going activity.

    • In general, 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.

  • Placement Data
    • According to 2013-2014 data, 92% of our students are employed in their careers or are continuing in their education. We are continuing to provide students with resources in aiding their employment search, primarily through Career Services but also through faculty mentorship.

  • 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.

Data-Based Decisions

New degrees or changes in degrees based on data.

  • 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 to understanding the living skin of the earth. Through foundational courses students gain 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.
    • The Sustainable Food Production emphasis is designed for students wishing to own a farming enterprise or work as a farm manager for a larger conventional or organic operation.
    • Students in the Environmental Soil Science emphasis will graduate being well qualified for careers in the improvement of soil and water management.
    • The Applied Climatology emphasis prepares students for careers in the public and private sectors involving climate interactions with land and water resources.
  • 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 primary 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 in teaching based where the students are.
  • A one-year certificate in conjunction with Salt Lake Community College was developed and approved in 2015 for the off-campus program.
    • This program was initiated due to a need for refugee population to acquire marketable skills in the workforce in Utah.
    • It was expanded to target all students targeting the landscape industry. The rapidly growing urban population is creating a need for more workers in this area.
    • Finally, this offers the first step in stackable credentials towards a AAS and BS degree.
  • 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 is set to go online starting Spring 2016. As a result we expect enrollment to increase significantly.
  • 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.
  • Climate Science undergraduate bachelors degree:
  • 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. As a result, we are creating this new BS program in 2016. Although all faculty needed are not yet at Utah State University, we will be cooperating with overseas institutions to both help teach components of the discipline and offer a needed world view on the subject. We expect this program to be admitting students no later than Fall 2017.
  • A departmental review in 2010 recommended simplification of department majors to some extent. We implemented those recommendations by having three undergraduate majors: Plant Science; Residential Landscape Design & Construction; and Environmental Soil and Water Science. However based on student requests for more specificity in degrees, we may expand those offerings somewhat, but will frequently review the effectiveness and appropriateness of degrees.

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 meaningful statistics course. 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 success. Many student comments since have highlighted the quality advising and mentorship from this group, particularly our specified advisor for PSC students.