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«Department of Physics Weber State University Program Review Self-Study February 6, 2008 WSU Program Review Self-Study Format & Standards Page 1 of 64 ...»

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Department of Physics

Weber State University

Program Review


February 6, 2008

WSU Program Review Self-Study Format & Standards

Page 1 of 64

WSU Program Review Self-Study Format & Standards

Page 2 of 64

Description of the Review Process:

The Review Team members are listed below. Their resumes are included as Appendix 1 of this


• Dr. Paula Szkody, Professor, Department of Astronomy, University of Washington,

• Dr. D. Mark Riffe, Associate Professor, Department of Physics, Utah State University,

• Dr. Daniel Bedford, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, Weber State University,

• Dr. H. Laine Berghout, Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry, Weber State University.

The Program Review Self-Study (this document) was prepared by the Chair of the Department of Physics in consultation with the departmental faculty members. Data and information within the

document were obtained from the following sources:

1. Departmental Annual Summaries for the academic years 2002/03, 2003/04, 2004/05, 2005/06, and 2006/07.

2. Data provided by Weber State University’s Division of Budget and Institutional Research.

3. Departmental assessment documents.

4. Department of Physics Program Review Self-Study document, May 2002.

As described in the Semester Sequence of Program Review Activities (revised June 2004), the steps

that have been, or will be taken throughout the review process include:

1. The selection of the external Review Team by the Department of Physics. The Dean of the College of Science has approved the selection of the team members.

2. On November 15, 2007, the self-study document will be submitted to the Dean of the College of Science for review and approval.

3. The self-study will then be forwarded to the members of the external Review Team in preparation for their on-site visit during Spring Semester 2008. The self-study will take place between February 15 and March 15, 2008.

4. Following completion of the on-site visit, the Review Team will be asked to submit a three to five page report of program strengths, challenges, and recommendations for change to the Department of Physics, with a copy to the Dean of the College of Science.

5. The Department will then submit a brief response of two to three pages regarding the Review Team’s report to the Dean.

6. The Dean in turn will comment on the Review Team’s report and departmental response, providing a one to two page response to the Department.

7. The Dean forwards the Department’s Executive Summary of the Self-Study, the Review Team’s report, the Department’s response, and the Dean’s response to the Office of Academic Affairs for the Program Review Standing Committee.

8. The Program Review Standing Committee will then make its recommendations to the Provost with regard to the findings of the program review.

9. The Provost will prepare an institutional response to the Program Review that will be submitted to the Weber State University Board of Trustees.

10. The Provost will also submit to the Utah Board of Regents an institutional summary of all programs that have been reviewed during the current year.

–  –  –

Program Description:

A. Program Mission Statement The mission of the Department of Physics at Weber State University is to provide high-quality instruction in physics at the undergraduate level. This includes providing courses in the general education area of physical science, pre-professional and pre-engineering courses in physics, and courses and programs for those who want to major or minor in physics.

Further activities of the department include providing opportunities for research and other scholarly activities of both faculty and students, advising the students served by the department, and serving as a resource for the campus and the state of Utah in the areas of physics and astronomy.

Last Reviewed: November 9, 2007.

The Mission Statement of the Department of Physics was last reviewed on November 9, 2007 as a part of the Department’s periodic review of its program.

Evaluation of the Mission Statement:

The Department’s mission statement is very explicit in its focus on undergraduate education at Weber State University. In particular, the mission statement identifies the three major groups of students served by the Department; general education students, service programs for majors in other disciplines, and physics majors and minors. The statement also directs the Department to serve as a general resource in physics and astronomy for the Weber State community and the state of Utah.

The Department’s philosophy of striving to provide the highest-possible level of instruction in physics is explicitly stated in the opening sentence of the first paragraph. In the second paragraph, the mission statement also identifies a primary emphasis on research and scholarly activities within the Department. The Department emphasizes the role of undergraduate research in its curriculum.

This aspect of the mission statement provides a powerful guiding force for educational opportunities and resource allocation within the Department.

It is anticipated that based on the emphases contained within our mission statement, students will graduate from Weber State University with a strong, positive experience in physics education, whether those students are general education students, majors in other scientific or technical programs, or physics majors or minors. In particular, it is expected that physics majors will be provided with significant opportunities to participate in research activities within the Department.

The mission statement of the Department of Physics supports the University’s mission statement on a variety of levels. For instance, the University’s mission statement calls for meeting “the WSU Program Review Self-Study Format & Standards Page 4 of 64 educational needs of Utah … in the liberal arts and sciences and a variety of vocations and professions. Primarily committed to quality undergraduate education, the university offers degree programs which include advanced professional preparation.” Furthermore, the institutional mission statement states “instructional programs are designed to prepare students for immediate employment or further study, at the same time equipping them through liberal education for lifelong learning in a changing world.” Within the highly scientific and technical environment of the early 21st century, it is critical that students develop the highest possible level of appreciation for and understanding of science in general, and physics in particular, in order to be informed citizens within today’s society.

A primary strength of our departmental programs involves student opportunities for research in close collaboration with faculty members. This aspect of the Department’s mission is also identified in the University’s statement; “extensive personal contact and support among students, faculty and staff create an enriched learning environment both in and out of the classroom.” In addition, “To insure vitality for effective teaching and service, the university engages in scholarship, research, artistic expression and other professional pursuits.” Overall, the mission statement of the Department of Physics reflects both the interests and emphases of the Department, as well as the focus of the University on quality undergraduate education. In support of its mission statement, the Department sets goals which are compiled and regularly revisited and updated. The Department’s most recent list of goals may be found in Appendix F, together with a summary of the Department’s highlights during the period covered by this report.

Student Statistical Summary:

There are no formal admissions requirements for the various physics degree programs other than the general admissions requirements established by the University. However, students earning degrees in Physics Teaching or Physical Science Composite Teaching must meet the Teacher Education admission and certification requirements.

–  –  –

1. In the Fall of 2003, at the request of the University, the Department assigned a faculty member to WSU’s Davis campus and began offering a section of Phys 1010, 1030, and 2210/2220 (including labs). The enrollment in these courses, especially in Phys 2210/2220, was unusually low. The faculty members assigned to WSU Davis accounted only for 237 SCHs during 2003-04, and 293 SCHs during 2004-05. With the consent of the Dean, the Department then withdrew from teaching at WSU Davis.

2. The sudden retirement of Dr. Jay Phippen in June 2004, who was not replaced in 2004-05, put an additional strain on our teaching resources.

3. In 2005-06 our enrollment in Phys 2010/2020 peaked and required that we open an additional section of Phys 2010. Because we must open another lab section for every 21 new students in Phys 2010/2020, faculty had to be removed from the general education courses which generate more SCHs. This offset the hiring of a replacement for Dr. Phippen.

4. In 2006-07, one of our faculty members was relieved of 58% of her time to administer a $1M grant from NASA. A net new faculty member was hired this year as well.

5. The 11% decline in total SCHs in 2006-07 from the previous year reflected a sharp decline in the enrollment of our service and general education courses. Phys 2010/2020 was down 200 SCHs, and Phys 2210/2220 was down 435 SCHs. These, plus a decrease of 78 SCHs in Phys 1010 and 1040, account for almost all of the decline in SCHs. This decline was not due to a reduction in the number of courses offered. There were seats available, but students did not enroll. For example, in 2004-05 the average Phys 1040 class had an enrollment of 58 (out of 60 available seats); in 2006-07 the average enrollment in Phys 1040 dropped to

39. Students have started going elsewhere for their science general education courses, perhaps to the huge number of sections of Nutrition 1020 offered by the Jerry and Vickie Moyes College of Education.

The data also show that the numbers of majors and minors enrolled in and graduating from the various programs within the Department has remained more or less constant over the past five years. Between 2002-03 and 2006-07 there was an average of 62.8 physics majors, and an average of 6.8 majors graduated from the Department each year.

These data appear to be somewhat higher than national norms. According to the American Institute of Physics “Enrollments and Degrees Report” (AIP Publication Number R-151.42, August 2007), the total production of bachelor’s degrees in the United States reached a 40-year low in 1999, with 3646 degrees conferred nationally. Since that time, it has increased 40.2% to 5113 in 2005. Among WSU Program Review Self-Study Format & Standards Page 6 of 64 exclusively bachelor’s degree-granting departments, the average number of degrees per department was 4.1 with a median value of 3. Ph.D.-granting departments conferred an average of 14.7 bachelor’s degrees in physics during that same year, with a median value of 11. Our average bachelor’s degree production rate is above the rates for bachelor’s degree-granting departments, but still below the rate for Ph.D.-granting institutions.

The enrollment growth in upper-division courses is attributed to the efforts of the Department’s Recruitment and Retention Committee, which began in Fall 2002. Committee members visit our introductory classes near the end of every semester and give presentations on the opportunities and advantages of a career in physics. They have created three flyers, each directed to the type of course they are visiting. The flyers are “Moving on in Physics” for Phys 1010; “Moving on in Astronomy” for Phys 1040; and “Beyond Phys 2010/2210” for Phys 2010 and 2210. However, this upper-division enrollment growth has not translated into an increase in the number of majors or graduates. It may be that by the time students with other majors take their (required) physics courses, they are too far along in their own majors to switch to physics, although they are persuaded to take an upper division physics course. Or they may prefer their current major to a physics major for other reasons.

According to statistics provided by Weber State University’s Office of Institutional Research, found in Appendix A, the number of female physics majors enrolled between 2002-03 and 2006-07 averaged 14.6%. Among graduates earning a degree in one of the physics programs over that same period, 23.5% were female. The national average in 2003 among bachelor’s degree students was 22%.

The low numbers of females in physics at the bachelor’s degree level may be due to the lack of role models in science (and particularly physics) at the elementary, secondary school, and university levels. Peer pressure and subtle forms of discrimination may also play significant roles. According to recent statistics from the American Institute of Physics (AIP Publication Number R-430.02, February 2005), the numbers of women in physics steadily decreases through the educational process. Although approximately 46% of the students taking physics in high school during 2001 were girls, only 22% graduated with bachelor’s degrees in physics in 2003. In 2003-04, 21% of first-year physics graduate students were women. Women were awarded 18% of all physics Ph.D.s granted in 2003.

–  –  –

Degrees Offered:

The Physics Department offers both B.S. and B.A. degrees in the following major areas:

Physics Applied Physics Physics Teaching Physical Science Composite Teaching (jointly with Chemistry and Geosciences) In addition, the qualified student can elect to enroll in the General Honors Program and receive departmental honors in Physics, Applied Physics, or Physics Teaching if the necessary requirements are satisfied.

–  –  –

and provides opportunities for students to choose physics as one of the three emphasis areas for the Bachelor of Integrated Studies major (BIS).

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