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Proactively Enhancing CurriculaCollege of Agricultural Sciences

The Challenge: Dealing with change while fulfilling the land grant mission

The College of Agricultural Sciences was faced with multidimensional changes, including the needs and expectations of related industries, state and federal funding requirements, increasingly complex global issues and their impact, and lower student enrollment in some programs.  The college wanted to be proactive in finding ways to meet its land grant responsibilities in agricultural sciences and maintain the integrity of disciplines and basic science while reaching across interdisciplinary lines to deal with and respond to societal and industry needs and student expectations.

The Solution: Interdisciplinary Programming

kids_in_waterTo identify areas of expertise on which to focus in the coming years, in the spring of 2004 the college formed six interdisciplinary study groups, including groups focusing on plant sciences and natural resources.  Final recommendations from both plant sciences and natural resources, as well as other groups, included developing the means to integrate multidisciplinary expertise and opportunities across the college.  Recommendations from all six study groups were incorporated into the development of the college’s 2005-2008 strategic plan.

One of the goals of the college’s 2005-2008 strategic plan is to “Increase enrollment and enhance student success” with one strategy for this to “revitalize curricula, starting with study group recommendations.”  Five short term study groups were formed in the summer of 2005, including one to address the environmental undergraduate curricula and one to address plant sciences graduate curricula, with a plan to have improvements in place in 2007.

Environmental Undergraduate Curricula: With a goal of developing relevant and vibrant undergraduate environmental-related majors, initiatives focused on the already established Environmental Resource Management (ERM) major.  Actions include:

  • Identifying the college’s interdisciplinary Environmental and Natural Resources Institute (ENRI) as the administrative home of the ERM major.
  • Increasing the ERM advising/recruiting position from part-time to full time for three years.
  • Launching an extensive and thorough internal curriculum review, led by a multidisciplinary team, to be followed by an external review.
  • Establishing a college-wide Environmental Programs Marketing Team.
  • Enhancing interactions between the college and the ERM alumni.

grad studentPlant Sciences Graduate Curricula: Doctoral program assessment indicators of excellence include interdisciplinary perspectives and size of programs.  Taking these criteria into account, and recognizing the smaller size of some of the college’s graduate programs, the plant sciences group recommended and is implementing three initiatives: 

  • Create plant science graduate courses that can satisfy the educational needs of core science topics in multiple disciplines.  Courses that have been identified include statistics and experimental design, ethics and professional development, and plant stress physiology/biology.
  • Create a plant sciences student colloquium, seminar series, and symposium.
  • Coordinate interdepartmental recruitment of graduate students in the plant sciences through a central web portal, recruitment weekends, and lab rotations. The first Plant Sciences recruitment weekend occurs in February 2007. According to Kathleen Brown, Professor, Postharvest Physiology in the College of Agricultural Sciences, “The departments of Crop & Soil Science, Horticulture, and Plant Pathology are hosting a joint recruiting weekend for prospective graduate students . . . This joint activity should increase cooperation and collaboration among students and faculty in these programs as well as create a more exciting atmosphere during the recruiting weekend.”
Consistent with its interdisciplinary approach, the college is concentrating marketing efforts on program clusters, and is identifying and closely tracking measures of return on marketing efforts and interdisciplinary initiatives. Recent undergraduate enrollment figures suggest that the ERM Program is growing and regaining its strength.


For more information about this initiative, visit or contact Ann Dodd at or 814-865-5410.

February 2007
Ann Dodd
Ann Dodd ,
Assistant Dean for Strategic Initiatives, Associate Professor of Agricultural and Extension Education, College of
Agricultural Sciences
"The goal is to assist programs to maintain their own individual disciplinary identity while..."more
Robert Shannon
 Robert D. Shannon,
Associate Professor
and Coordinator,
Environmental Resource
Management Program
College of
Agricultural Sciences
"The ERM program has already benefited from the recommendations originating with the environmental curriculum study group. For example, ..."more

Environmental Undergraduate Curricula Study Group


   Marcos Fernandez

   James Shortle

   David Mortensen

   Paul Blankenhorn
   David Eissenstat
   Herschel Elliot
   Jill Findeis
   Dan Fritton
   Michael Saunders
   Rob Shannon
   David Sylvia

Staff Support:
   Anna Marie
Plant Sciences Graduate Curricula Study Group

   Ann Dodd
   Bruce McPheron

   Dave Geiser

   Kathleen Brown
   John Carlson
   Surinder Chopra
   Consuelo DeMoraes
   Scott Isard
   Richard Marini
Staff Support:

© 2006. Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment   502 Rider II University Park, PA 16802-4819   (814) 863-8721   fax (814) 863-7031