The mission of the Wiess School of Natural Sciences is in the long tradition of Lovett's vision for the University. Our task is to create a community of scholars and learners that will attract the best minds in the world to generate scientific and technical knowledge at the forefront of inquiry and discourse, to educate new generations of scientists and scientifically literate citizens, and to contribute to the common good through outreach activities. To fulfill this mission, our specific aims are
The Wiess School stands at a critical point in its history. Greatness is within our grasp. Our current strength and momentum place us within striking distance of a wholly new position among the world's great institutions of higher learning, given the proper resolve and resources. Lovett's grand vision of Rice still describes the aspirations for this institution and for the Wiess School. We must redouble our efforts to reach the heights that Lovett envisioned.
Our graduate and research programs, though presently well respected, cluster around the top 25th percentile in their fields. Laying aside how much emphasis to accord such rankings, we have not fully realized our potential. The more favorable perception of our undergraduate programs must be taken as incentive for further improvement and innovation rather than cause for self-congratulation. We must continue to build and strengthen our excellent existing K-12 outreach programs while working diligently on progress in less robust areas of outreach, especially relations with local industry.
Achievement of these goals does not require radical shifts of emphasis or direction. Rather, we advocate a number of incremental changes to advance the quality of our programs and elicit wider recognition. The vectors for these changes point in the same direction. Their sum and integration over time can move the Wiess School from "good" to "great" across the board.
The following represents a summary of the priorities in three categories:
Highest Priorities for Division
Important Priorities for Division
Important University Priorities
Advancement of graduate and postdoctoral education is essential for the future of the Wiess School. If our reputation is to shift with respect to other institutions, we must improve the quality, creativity, productivity, and visibility of our research programs. These programs involve students at all levels, but the key ingredients are graduate and postdoctoral students. These individuals are not only coworkers in the research laboratories, but also can contribute to the intellectual growth of the University as a whole. Rice must elevate our graduate programs to be of the same caliber as our undergraduate programs. We must recruit the best students and provide them with outstanding training and personal mentoring, with careful attention to their professional development and placement. We must educate our graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to become independent, versatile, and creative scientists, capable of critical thought and insight. The barriers between graduate and undergraduate students must be eroded to expand the intellectual environment for both groups.
First-rate undergraduate education has been so central to Rice that we are often regarded primarily as an undergraduate institution rather than a comprehensive research university. Rice must continue to be a premier institution for undergraduate studies, both in reputation and in substance, by providing all Rice students with a scientific education that fosters creativity, critical thinking, and the application of scientific reasoning to individual and societal decisions. In particular, our science majors must be provided an education that prepares them for graduate studies and/or professional careers by challenging them with the important problems in science and technology and equipping them with tools to address these problems. Association with graduate students throughout their undergraduate careers provides one such avenue.
A final component of our vision is to reach beyond our boundaries, both Divisional and institutional, to support mutually beneficial interactions between the Wiess School and a variety of partners in education and research. We strongly endorse collaboration across the Divisions within the University, both in research and teaching, to expand awareness of science among our colleagues and to provide insight from other perspectives into our own work. We underscore the existence of multiple on-going projects to enhance K-12 science education and strongly support these undertakings. The number of efforts in our Division are impressive and reflect the active and effective involvement of many of our colleagues in the Houston community. We recommend similar partnerships with industry and with other institutions to provide avenues for the transfer of scientific and technological information. Finally, public awareness of science and technology and input into the scientific enterprise has societal benefits and can serve to increase the visibility of the programs in our Division.
Broader dissemination of Rice accomplishments is crucial, not only in scientific publications but also in other venues (TV, scientific/lay talks, newspapers, publications of professional organizations, brochures, etc.). Rice must aggressively pursue public relations activities in science and technology; an additional science writer with technical education on the University Relations staff would facilitate this effort. Reaching out to other institutions and inviting colleagues to spend sabbatical time at Rice provides an attractive mechanism for expanding the positive perception of our Division. We recommend establishment of an endowment to bring scientists to the campus for sabbatical research and teaching.
While rankings (NRC and otherwise) are important to Rice, the ratings per se are of less importance than attention to the quality of faculty, research, and teaching. We do not believe that we should undertake activities solely to improve rankings. Attention must be focused on the quality of faculty, students, research, and teaching and on efforts that sustain and enhance these programs.
Department Chairs and senior faculty must understand that advancing the careers of junior faculty is part of their professional duties. They must mentor junior faculty and ensure their visibility on the national scene. Arranging speaking engagements at prominent universities, invitations to speak at conferences, nomination for awards and NSF presidential and DOD young investigator awards, among other possibilities, is an essential role for the Chairs and faculty members in each Department. Mentors should be assigned to each faculty member, both for teaching and for research. Junior faculty must be provided the best opportunity to attain national recognition and tenure. The criteria for promotion (and for national recognition) differ among our disciplines, and no "formula" to attain tenure can be provided to junior faculty. Furthermore, detailed sets of guidelines for promotion have the danger of encouraging junior faculty to"play the game" rather than straightforwardly focusing on excellence in research and teaching. For this reason, we encourage Department Chairs to converse with junior faculty and provide a broad outline for the criteria for tenure in that Department to allay anxiety without limiting the purview of the faculty in the tenure process. Department Chairs should also be proactive in nominating senior faculty for awards and honors.
Department Chairs should consider, where feasible, providing release time to faculty for development of innovative teaching, interdisciplinary programs, and for other efforts that are deemed important to the institution and to the Department. Faculty creativity can be blunted by the level of demand that currently exists. Freeing faculty at intervals for creative pursuits may infuse a level of enthusiasm and dynamism that is contagious to both colleagues and students.
In this context, the recommendations provided below regarding graduate student support are crucial. Graduate students form the core of our "working force." We must bring the best students to Rice and provide them with an outstanding environment and educational opportunities. Graduate support is crucial. Coordination and support for the recruitment of excellent students are important for the future. Funding to Departments is required for recruiting efforts (brochures, etc.), for recruiting visits by prospective students, and for contacts to other institutions; expansion of the amounts allocated currently may be necessary. Divisional staff support for Web development and for recruitment and expanded use of electronic mechanisms (including electronic applications and reference letters) are essential.
The multiple demands that tax faculty's time and energy have been growing steadily over the past two decades. In contrast, the number of staff support personnel has not increased significantly, particularly over the past decade. Demands on faculty time have reached critical levels, primarily because they are forced to do tasks (e.g., xeroxing) that should normally be done by administrative and secretarial staff. Current concerns regarding infrastructure are so critical that a separate document was prepared to address these issues outside of the strategic planning focus (Appendix H). Additional Division-wide and Departmental staff are essential whether these staff needs are met by reallocation of staff, by additional training of current personnel, and/or by creation of new positions. Recommendations are made below for staff support of Web-site development, a venue increasingly valuable in research and in graduate student and postdoctoral recruitment. There is also an increasing need for technical staff support, particularly in computation, information, graphic arts, and instrumentation. As our technical needs and research activities expand, this problem will become even more critical.
Support for instrumentation is also an area of serious concern. Governmental agencies are providing less and less support for equipment, including that for computers and software. Upgrades of both computational hardware and software are critical. We must develop institutional or Divisional plans for computer replacement and software acquisition on a regularly scheduled basis (e.g., every 4 years). These upgrades are not just for research but also for teaching, particularly the creative development of curriculum (see below). The quality of instrumentation may determine the success of experiments and must be maintained and enhanced to improve the research environment. The Division should establish a privately funded endowment to provide matching funds for new equipment, for continual replacement needs (including computers), for small equipment, and for maintenance of this equipment. A criterion for award of these funds would be evidence of attempts to obtain funding from other sources. Matching funds are particularly critical to allow faculty to seek grants for large pieces of equipment that might not be affordable as an outright purchase from such an endowment. In addition, a central listing of equipment presently available on campus would provide more facile access to potential users.
A final concern in creating a supportive research environment is the Library. Steps should be undertaken to compensate for the inevitable gaps that will persist given Rice's size. Cooperative agreements with other institutions and contracts for overnight delivery of interlibrary loan materials would provide resources necessary for research. The hours for library operation during vacation periods for undergraduate students is a particular problem for faculty and graduate students. The library hours should reflect the needs of this central portion of the university community. These needs include later evening and weekend use, especially during periods when most undergraduates are not on campus. One possibility is to provide 24 hour access to the collection, with more limited times for circulation.
The scientific literature will become electronic more rapidly than in other fields. The library must commit financial resources and personnel to facilitate this shift. A catalog of electronic journals, servers to search and access them centrally, and facilities to print selected documents would be most helpful and will become essential in a short time.
In order to incorporate high technology into the classroom, the instructors and teaching assistants must have a working familiarity with these instruments. In particular, we wish to facilitate use and advocate exploration of computer-aided lectures, demonstrations, and exercises for students. As a consequence, faculty and graduate students involved in these courses must be trained in the technology. Workshops or classes should be established on innovative teaching methods utilizing modern technology. Software advancements as well as hardware use should be covered. A frequency of approximately twice per year would allow interested faculty and students to become acquainted with methods that may enhance their teaching effectiveness.
Beyond these measures, we must commit ourselves to institutional policies that demand good teaching as a minimum standard and encourage excellence in instruction by suitable rewards. These policies must encompass the hiring of new faculty, promotion to tenure of faculty, and salary and support allocations.
Beyond the fundamental issue of living conditions, the graduate student population feels isolated from much of the decision-making processes that influence their lives and careers. Departments must establish formal mechanisms for graduate student and postdoctoral input into decisions related to their studies and research work (e.g., student membership on curriculum and policy committees, attendance at relevant faculty meetings, involvement in graduate recruiting). The University must also establish mechanisms for input into decisions on fringe benefits, health insurance, health services, and other student life issues, some of which are unique to this community. Both graduate and postdoctoral students are concerned about the substandard health benefits that are offered to them. Graduate students and postdoctoral research associates should be members of committees that deal with the problems, and their involvement should be sought actively by the University.
To acknowledge the importance of graduate studies on the campus, we recommend expansion of awards to faculty mentors based on their graduate education efforts, with these awards accorded prestige equal to that of the Brown awards for undergraduate teaching. This visibility of graduate studies and reward for faculty effort is important on the Rice campus, where there has been less attention to and support for graduate and postdoctoral studies. We must undertake serious efforts to ameliorate the deleterious effects of our apparent indifference to this essential group on our campus.
A Graduate Committee for the Division should be established, on either an interim or permanent basis, to provide coordination among Departments and across Divisions and to ensure implementation of the recommendations embodied in this Plan. This Committee would facilitate development of courses across disciplines and establishment of interdisciplinary degree programs and seminars for alternative career pathways, provide a forum for graduate and postdoctoral student input, supervise a regular questionnaire for graduate student feedback, gather information as to what constitutes competitive stipends, and expand recruitment efforts with the proposed Divisional staff person (see below).
Where patents are obtained, a fixed proportion of any resulting royalties and licensing fees obtained from intellectual property should be deposited in a fund for graduate student stipend support in the Division or in the originating Department. One oft-repeated concern is the practice of providing full stipend support from faculty sources for students who are spending significant effort teaching. Whether broad scale teaching assistant support is wise was debated by our Steering Committee, but there was consensus that University-funded teaching assistantships should be provided to encourage classroom teaching experiences for interested and well-qualified graduate students.
The Steering Committee acknowledges that prospects for external support for admitted graduate students and the future employment prospects for these students are factors that must be considered in modulating the size of various graduate programs. However, the existence of a strong graduate program is essential for the future of Rice. The University must undertake every effort both to recruit excellent students and to place them well when they complete their degrees. Thoughtful assessment of the size of each graduate program should be part of the triennial review in each Department (see below).
Other mechanisms to attract graduate school applicants are sponsorship of national undergraduate conferences on the Rice campus and providing multiple opportunities for summer research in our laboratories (e.g., by using NSF supplemental positions or REU programs). Where we are unable to hold our own conferences, we must use the opportunities presented by other institutions to target a strong recruitment effort on undergraduate participants.
Recruitment visits were identified as the single most important factor in their decision to choose Rice by a significant portion of graduate students surveyed. Therefore, recruitment visits are imperative for all well-qualified prospective students. These visits must be organized effectively, ensuring that all faculty and graduate students that interact with prospective students are thoroughly informed about the current course programs and research opportunities. Furthermore, the positive impact of visits can be optimized by carefully connecting the student to his/her interests, by highlighting the diversity of faculty and students where it exists, and underscoring Rice's commitment to graduate education of the highest quality. An essential ingredient to successfully attracting graduate students is continual review of all our graduate recruiting practices to determine what is effective and what is not.
The lack of diversity in some areas is of concern. We urge Departments to consider ways to expand the representation of well-qualified women and underrepresented groups in their faculty and students. Faculty representation facilitates student recruitment.
A final area regards monetary incentives for choosing Rice. We must ensure competitive compensation packages for students. Stipends for students who receive national awards or non-University fellowships should be supplemented to levels at least $1000/year above their graduate cohorts. Tuition waivers for students should be continued as a normal part of the stipend award. Benefits for the students, particularly health care, should be considered carefully. Finally, the pros and cons of charging an application fee should be considered carefully and impartially. This fee, while providing a modicum of revenue, introduces an obstacle to applications, generates the need for additional staff effort at several levels, and is a major impediment to a Web-based application process. The latter concern is paramount, because experience with Web-based applications suggests that numbers of applicants would increase. In addition, the data provided in the electronic application could be converted directly into a tracking database.
Means for assuring timely completion of graduate degrees need to be instituted. Departments can encourage rapid completion of course work (1-2 years), require early advancement to Ph.D. candidacy with both oral and written aspects to the qualifying exam, and undertake rigorous annual reviews of student progress. After five years in residence, mechanisms should be undertaken by Departments to ensure that both students and mentors are attending to the passage of time (e.g., compulsory annual re-enrollment). The breadth of their training also has an impact on the competitive edge that our students may have. Greater emphasis on interdepartmental and interdivisional activities as well as joint research and graduate programs provides avenues for expanding student awareness. Finally, each graduate program should be reviewed on a triennial basis to provide a monitor of career success of our graduates and the opportunity to tune our programs for maximum effectiveness of the training. Regular polling of both current and former graduate students will provide input on their views, experience, and perspective on our programs. A University-wide comprehensive survey of former students would be especially useful in generating the data and feedback required for optimal adjustment our training efforts.
Placement of our students will also be improved by providing opportunities for training in ancillary, but nonetheless important, areas. We should establish workshops for developing our students' skills in writing, speaking, and computing. In addition, opportunities to develop experience in grant writing, laboratory management, job interviewing, and basic business practices for our students will expand their range of possibilities and improve their opportunities.
Improvements in career advising, both institutionally and Departmentally, will also expand potential placement sites. Departments should maintain up-to-date lists of available academic and industrial positions for use by all students (all faculty get inquiry letters - pool them!). The Wiess School and Departments should actively develop relationships with potential employers where possible, using internships, mentoring, job fairs, etc. Faculty must be actively and centrally involved in the optimal placement of each student and postdoctoral fellow. We recommend both increased attention to graduate and postdoctoral students by Career Services and greater use of what is available by students to expand their horizons.
We also strongly advocate expansion of staff support for teaching, including laboratory coordinators where classes are large, to free faculty to develop teaching methods and curricular improvements. The utility of laboratory coordinators has been demonstrated in Departments where such positions already exist. These positions will free faculty to concentrate on creative aspects of their curricular responsibilities. Laboratory courses have significant set-up time and require extensive contact hours that can be guided by faculty but managed by professional staff, whose sole responsibility is laboratory instruction. Such positions ensure continuity and should be filled by Ph.D.-level individuals with a special interest in and aptitude for teaching. The influence of these coordinators on the faculty and their teaching can be significantly positive.
Staff support for lectures and course development is also exceptionally important - setting up demonstrations, preparing visual aids, managing Web-pages or news groups, keeping records, grading, finding laboratory and library materials, investigating alternative mechanisms for instruction in specific areas, are among many other tasks that such staff could undertake. Freeing faculty from these activities provides time for direct interaction with students, in particular those that require extensive assistance, and for thoughtful curricular development. Support personnel for finding, creating, maintaining, and updating internet resources are considered to be particularly important. Putting information on the Web provides equivalent access for off-campus as well as on-campus students. Web material can be rapidly updated, and electronic communication provides rapid feedback on student questions. In addition, Web pages can point to resources beyond the borders of the campus.
Rice is at hazard to be insular and therefore disconnected from developments at other institutions. University-funded sabbaticals for Visiting Professors at Rice would allow cross-fertilization of ideas from other highly regarded universities and colleges. Input for our undergraduate curriculum would be especially useful from faculty from liberal arts colleges where science majors are well represented and successful as graduate students at competitive research universities. Participation in selected national curricular initiatives may expand faculty awareness and provide additional resources for our efforts.
Modern science and technology are increasingly collaborative across many non-traditional borders, a trend that should be reflected in our curriculum. Experiments in innovative teaching could be supervised and evaluated by the Divisional Curriculum Committee (e.g., increase the "Big 3" to four hour courses by adding optional or required recitation sections with postdoctoral research associates).
The Natural Sciences Curriculum Committee should consider the desirability of offering a Bachelor of Science degree option in addition to the current Bachelor of Arts degree. The current degree requirements of our majors are equivalent to those for B.S. degrees at many other universities. A more flexible set of requirements, appropriate for the B.A. option, would free our majors to explore other avenues within the university more completely, including interdisciplinary studies. Strong sentiment was found among students, faculty, and staff in favor of this option. This Committee should also coordinate offering of seminar courses (see below) and efforts to improve advising within the Division.
Student research opportunities should be expanded, and the Rice University Scholars Program (RUSP) augmented or others like it encouraged. Research should be considered as a requirement for the B.S. degree by each Department (see above). Research opportunities should also be available to interested B.A. degree students and even to qualified non-majors where appropriate and feasible. Students are, by and large, interested in research. Among the strengths of our Division are the numerous, excellent programs of research directed by our faculty. This strength must be incorporated into the undergraduate curriculum without compromising the research enterprise itself. Furthermore, faculty should be accorded recognition for their efforts with undergraduate research students. We therefore recommend that the Annual Report to the President be modified to include a section for faculty to list their supervision of undergraduate research students.
Advising is central to guiding our students effectively through the curricular maze. Divisional advisors should be trained and provided information that is easy for both faculty and students to understand. Where reasonable, earlier access to a Departmental advisor should be made available, and the students should be encouraged to seek the advice of these individuals. Methods for identifying students who are at risk need to be developed and implemented. To assist these students, a coordinated mentoring program should be established to enhance their prospects of success. Possibilities that would address these problems include summer courses and regular term courses for underprepared students. In addition, a pre-freshman summer preparatory course for students could be considered. Information regarding existing tutoring programs in Departments should be disseminated widely so that students and faculty are aware of the resources that are available to them. Graduate student participation in teaching should be assessed to determine whether participation in tutorial programs would be of greater benefit than current activities.
A critical need is to continue recent efforts to bring Rice up to standard in the number and quality of classrooms and in the availability and support of audio-visual and computing equipment. For an institution of our reputation, our present classroom and A/V situation is a source of embarrassment. In particular, the insufficient number of classrooms, especially ones equipped with state-of-the-art electronic facilities, impedes modern curricular development and discourages experimentation with innovative methods of instruction and learning. These problems must be addressed effectively and quickly, an effort that has begun but must be continued apace.
As indicated earlier, equipping faculty and Departments with modern computer hardware and software is as essential to the teaching mission of the University as it is for research. Use of technology has expanded beyond the confines of the research laboratory. It is now an integral and essential element of instruction and learning which must be available for all faculty and students. A Divisional facility should be established to serve as a resource for the development and implementation of multimedia, electronic, and other innovative methods of instruction.
Classroom scheduling is difficult. Coordinating the scheduling of classes within the Division is essential to provide a system that supports learning for the students. We advocate a thoughtful and coordinated system for the scheduling of classrooms.
In addition, timely information on students, tracking their enrollment and relative success, is essential. Information on student interests when admitted, their eventual majors, and where they go should be maintained in a central database to facilitate assessment efforts.
Getting started can be one of the most difficult aspects of outreach. Thus, a Web site that provides information on existing outreach programs provides not only visibility but also access to other interested parties. Staff involved in outreach should be prepared to help others make contacts and get started with their own programs, even though these individuals are already over-subscribed. A Divisional Web expert (see above) would provide, as part of the responsibilities assigned, assistance in development of appropriate materials for outreach programs. The Web is a primary source of information for many individuals and improves the public awareness of science. Web pages with scientific content can have high impact and augment both scientific understanding and simultaneously the perception of Rice as a place where excellence in science can be found.
Because many K-12 students (and many life-long students) "surf" the Web, we encourage faculty to develop Web pages with scientific content at a level accessible to the general public. NSF has begun to impress on scientists that we must play a stronger role in educating the public about the value of basic research, and K-12 teachers can no longer carry the full burden of increasing public awareness in this arena. Development of Web materials will require assistance from a Divisional Web support person (see above) and may involve both graduate and undergraduate students as well. We particularly encourage the involvement of Rice undergraduates in developing Web materials for K-12 education and participating in the existing large outreach programs in science education.
Concern was expressed among the faculty regarding preparation for secondary school teachers in science and mathematics at Rice. Courses in science and mathematics education must be taught by individuals who are knowledgeable in the subject area and are aware of the pedagogical issues involved. The Departments in the Wiess School are encouraged to consider offering courses on science and mathematics education and developing an interdisciplinary graduate degree in science and mathematics education. In addition, Departments are encouraged to work with other parts of the University to improve the current state of K-12 teacher preparation at Rice.
Close communication between Departments would also enhance our capacity to act in an interdisciplinary mode. We should be aware of activities that can be shared with other Divisions, including Humanities and Social Sciences - colloquia, seminars, lectures, visiting guests, et al. We must ensure that invitations to events are distributed widely. A University-wide events calendar that is easy to access, both for reading and for entry of events, would be extremely valuable. To encourage interaction, we recommend including persons from other Divisions, not just outside the Department, on graduate examining committees. We reiterate earlier recommendations for the development of interdisciplinary courses, majors, and thesis programs. An example at the undergraduate level is the Rice University Scholars Program. We believe that participation in this program should be increased and similar programs developed.
We reiterate also the need for a concerted program of public relations and information dispersal to publicize our research and educational efforts. Rice publications (Rice News, Sallyport) should highlight campus activities. Efforts must be made to garner greater media attention. We can expand our publicity and invitation lists for Wiess School public lectures by targeting community, business, and industrial leaders. Our efforts to recruit graduate students provide an opportunity to reach colleagues at other universities. Inventive recruitment strategies may provide mechanisms for information dispersal about our programs. A recruiting coordinator in the Graduate Office (see above) could develop strategies and involve Departments in reaching a broader segment of prospective students and their advisors.
Although the School of Continuing Studies provides a number of excellent courses with scientific content, their number pales in comparison with those in other fields. Even if experts outside of the Rice community must be enlisted (or graduate students/postdoctorals), the number of science offerings in Continuing Studies should be expanded.
To reinforce with our students the importance of conveying their work to the public, we recommend a requirement that every graduate thesis include a 1-2 page abstract that conveys the essence of their work in language that can be appreciated and understood by a more general audience.
Finally, we recommend (re)establishing a Speakers' Bureau (see above), listing faculty and students who are available to speak in a variety of community settings. This activity can be Divisional or institutional, as in the past.
Because many of our students may pursue careers in industry, we believe that Departments should strive to establish/increase summer internship opportunities outside of academia for both undergraduate and graduate students. Exposure to industrial settings can facilitate student choices about their careers and provide a firmer basis for their decisions. Another avenue to improve relationships with industry would be Professional Master's degree programs in areas where such efforts are appropriate. Continuing professional education via electronic means is an increasingly important avenue that we should consider carefully.
Departments can also avail themselves of resources in the local industrial community in their regular courses. The experience would provide exposure of students to industrial scientists and the perspective offered by those employed in this sector. Departments might consider offering short courses that draw on the expertise of industrial scientists and that focus on topics that might otherwise not be offered. Because the format for interaction with industry will vary greatly, even among the Departments in the Wiess School, no template can be provided. Nonetheless, we believe that enhanced interactions will promote mutually beneficial outcomes that would become self-sustaining.
Table II identifies actions that must be undertaken primarily by individuals outside of the Wiess School. Letters to each of these individuals will be written by the Steering Committee describing the action and providing a requested time frame for implementation.
We harbor no illusion that every recommendation will be implemented, nor that these recommendations, collectively or individually, are a unique path to accomplishing our goals. What we urge, however, is careful consideration of the motivations underlying these ideas and serious reflection on the ways in which each member of our community can bring the vision, first articulated by Lovett almost a century ago, to fruition. In sum, we advocate a concerted effort to make the faculty of the highest quality and to bring the graduate programs on a par with the undergraduate programs.
Future serious evaluation of the graduate and undergraduate programs, whether Divisionally or Departmentally, will require detailed information on the students. Therefore, among our recommendations are databases for tracking both graduate and undergraduate students. We need to know how we attract students, where they come from, how they found out about Rice, what their initial goals were, how those goals change, which students do best and why, where they go when they leave, how well we fulfilled their educational needs, and answers to myriad other questions. Careful design of databases with consultation from the faculty and Dean and frequent monitoring will be required to provide the foundation for realistic and insightful assessment of our programs.
For graduate studies, we must evaluate recruitment strategies, current student progress, status of previous Ph.D.s, employment opportunities for students. To do this, we must have information on all applicants: undergraduate school, GPA, GRE scores, how they found out about Rice, etc. We must track those to whom offers are made and discover, if possible, where students go who do not accept our offers. For students who enter Rice, we must maintain information on their graduate GPA, courses taken, when candidacy requirements are completed, when they graduate, where they go, We need to seek information at periodic intervals following graduation regarding their perceptions of their Rice experience.
Departments and their faculty are already subjected to multiple assessments by the Dean, by outside committees, and by the Provost and President. However, internal evaluation can be most beneficial, and we recommend internal assessments of faculty efforts. Furthermore, tracking graduate students (as indicated above), monitoring the undergraduate curriculum, and evaluations of teaching effectiveness can and should be examined by each Department on a regular basis. In addition, Departments will be rated at regular intervals by outside agents, including the NRC and other national groups. While these ratings should not drive our actions, they nonetheless provide an assessment by the world outside Rice. The recommendations provided may improve our ratings in these national rankings, which may provide one future marker of our progress.
Several measures related to undergraduate education have been suggested. These include average class size in 100- and 200-level courses, total number of non-majors taking 100- and 200-level courses, retention rate of Science majors, number of underrepresented minorities among Science majors, number of double majors between Science and Humanities or Social Sciences, number of fully-functional sets of lab equipment compared to average lab section enrollment, et al. In addition, standardized tests such as the GRE can provide measures of our students' learning compared to national norms. An important assessment of our success can be derived from the reports of our graduates at intervals following their graduation: How well did we prepare them for their careers? This type of information is currently lacking and impedes effective restructuring of courses to meet the actual (rather than perceived) needs of the students. Student evaluations of teachers and courses provide a useful immediate assessment, but often these perceptions are altered by time and experience; it is the latter information that provides the greatest insight into what we should be doing in our curriculum. Rice must establish mechanisms to obtain this longitudinal feedback from the students on specific courses and majors.
The assessment of outreach provides a more difficult challenge. How do we know whether our efforts in the community, whether within Rice or without, are successful? The K-12 programs have mechanisms for assessment, and these should be applied at regular intervals to confirm that the energy expended is being used fruitfully. Other measures of success in outreach might include numbers of applicants for graduate study, "hits" on Web pages, the degree to which our faculty are sought for comment by the local and national press about important scientific issues, to name a few. While some of these measures are obtained easily, others are significantly more difficult and may not provide sufficient insight to be worth the time involved. Nonetheless, in all of our activities, we should have in mind mechanisms to determine whether our energy and effort are being spent effectively or could be rerouted to other avenues with higher relative yields.
Given the small size of Rice, coordination of our efforts across the Division and across the campus, will be key to our future success. Whether recruiting faculty or graduate students, designing courses and curricula, evaluating programs, or participating in a variety of outreach activities, knowledge of other related activities within the Division and throughout the University provides the potential to minimize effort and share expenses. Effective coordination rests on clear communication of our resources, our goals, and our processes. We must find common interests across multiple, and sometimes disparate, boundaries and put in unified effort to reach the goals toward which we aspire.
We were urged by some of our colleagues to radical and expansive thought, and we hope that some measure of creative thinking appears in this document. We believe that there is potential to develop such avenues further in the future, but revolutionary change in a participatory system requires consensus, measured steps over time as we move together to inhabit new territory. In this spirit, we raise questions for the future: Should Departments and Divisions continue to be the fundamental units of our organization? How should we logically organize ourselves in a rapidly changing scientific context? Given the flood of information and opportunity, how do we choose the avenues for our effort? What will position us to attract the best minds, the best faculty, and the best students to Rice in 5 years or 20 years? What will be the criteria for a premier university in 2020? How can we position ourselves effectively to assume and maintain a role of leadership over the next 25 years? How will the role of Rice University articulated by Lovett, "a great storehouse of learning, a great bureau of standards, a great workshop of knowledge, a great laboratory for training...," be manifest in 20 years?
To continue the process of planning for the future and extend the conversation that has only just begun among us, we advocate strongly instigation of an annual recurring effort by a small group appointed by the Dean to converse with faculty in each of the Departments. As visionary ideas emerge, the Web can be used to propagate ideas, workshops or other gatherings can be convened to talk about these ideas and assess their potential, and faculty, staff, and students alike can continue to reflect creatively on our collective future.
TABLE I. Recommended Actions Primarily Within Division
TABLE II. Recommended Actions Primarily Outside Division
APPENDIX A - The Meaning of the New Institution, Chapter IV by Edgar Odell Lovett
APPENDIX B - Membership of Subcommittees
APPENDIX C - Description of Process
APPENDIX D - Report of the Subcommittee on Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies
APPENDIX E - Report of the Subcommittee on Faculty Issues and Research Resources
APPENDIX F - Report of the Subcommittee on Undergraduate Education
APPENDIX G - Report of the Subcommittee on Outreach
APPENDIX H - Statement on Infrastructure Issues
For additional information, or to offer comments or suggestions, please write to Dr. Kathy Matthews, Chair
Steering Committee for Natural Sciences Strategic Planning
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Last Updated 10-Jun-97