Geology department deals with faculty cuts

Kathryn McGonagle

Enrollment increases in time of need

Shorthanded and facing a rising number of students, the geology department is coping with eliminating classes, increasing class sizes and doubling the workload for graduate assistants.

“We’ve made a concerted effort to connect with students,” Dr. Daniel Holm, chair of the Geology Department, said about this year’s major enrollment spike.

Their efforts to recruit are paying off, and students are enrolling in both courses and as majors at an increasing rate. From last year, enrollment in core classes has risen by more than 100 students from the fall of 2008 to the fall of 2009, according to a memo published by Holm about the recruitment success.

Some of the recruitment ploys are “geology nights,” which offer potential majors the opportunity to meet faculty, undergraduate and graduate students and eat free pizza.

The department also modified its undergraduate student requirements. This year, instead of 88 core credit hours needed to graduate, majors will only need 77, which is the standard for most of Kent State’s Bachelor of Science degrees.

“That has perhaps made students who would not have looked at us or given us a second look think twice,” Holm said.“Our credits are on par now with other science degrees.”

Enrollment in the geology major is the highest it’s been since the fall of 2005. The trend, Holm said, is for students’ interest to be peaked later in college after taking a general geology course.

“They find that geology is more than just rocks and minerals,” Holm said. “We get the students who really love the outdoors and working in the lab.”

The nearly 100 percent employment rate for graduates is a major plus as well.

These efforts have been so successful, the department had to open another lab section just to accommodate the increase of more than 200 students. Holm said this does mean more work for the graduate assistants.

“The TAs did at least one section, but now they have twice that,” Holm said.

For graduate students like Jenna Hojnowski, that means more time teaching and preparing for labs.

“It kind of cuts into my research and thesis time,” Hojnowski said about teaching two lab sections instead of one.

This enrollment spike is coming after recent cuts, which claimed 25 percent of the department’s Kent faculty. Holm said the cuts forced the department to cut one LER section.

“We lost over 100 years of experience collectively,” Holm said.

Fewer professors and more students mean larger classes, but the professors are willing and able to deal with issues in larger class sizes.

“I find it exciting to be able to talk to that many people at once,” Dr. Donna Witter said.“I like knowing I’ve told so many people about what’s going on in terms of issues that are important globally and locally.”

Witter, like many of the professors, is employing the use of clickers to get a sense of how many students are on track and how many are falling behind.

“If in a large class, people don’t understand something, they are less likely to raise their hand and ask,” Witter said. “With clickers, students don’t have to single themselves out.”

David Helmich, an integrated science major with a concentration in earth science, said students don’t ask questions in a large class because they don’t want to sound stupid.

“They can be intimidated,” Helmich said.“No one likes to be wrong, and students become uncomfortable in a large class.”

As for individual time with the professors, Sarah Trizzino, art education major, said she has no trouble-reaching professors.

“Most professors keep themselves very accessible to talk to,” Trizzino said.

Dr. Donald Palmer, who has been a professor for over 40 years, makes it a point to keep himself available for student questions or discussions outside of class.

“The geology department and I have for many years had an open door policy for students to ask me anything,” Palmer said.

Contact College of Arts and Sciences reporter Kathryn McGonagle at [email protected].