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Strategic Plan for Physics

Context For Planning

The department faculty. 

Presently our department faculty includes 15 tenured or tenure-track members, 5 visitors, 4 affiliates, and one administrative professional (AP) with some teaching duties, and a number of continually changing adjunct instructors. Our tenure-track faculty are excellent educators who actively engage students in the classroom and in the laboratory. Our research backgrounds span a diverse range of experimental, theoretical, computational and pedagogical fields, including astronomy, atomic and molecular physics, solid-state physics, acoustics, gravitation and cosmology, and physics education research. Our full time faculty members hail from four continents, and with 26% women (5 of 19) our department slightly above the national average for gender diversity in faculty among bachelors degree granting institutions.[1]  

The majors whom we serve.

We currently have 46 students majoring in physics, approximately 27% whom are also in the Honors College. For the past three years we have graduated 7-10 graduates per year puts GVSU in the 80th percentile of bachelor's-only physics departments.[2] In the last five years our majors have been graduating in a timely fashion and at a higher rate.  This success is in part to the dedicated faculty and a sustained effort to offer upper-level selective courses on a regular basis.     Our majors complete an extensive program that provides a strong background in experimental and theoretical physics. At the same time our program provides sufficient flexibility, partly due to the junior and senior level selective courses that we offer, such that our students become prepared for a diverse array of career paths.   Many of our majors succeed in graduate programs at universities across the country; for example, in recent years we have placed students in prestigious medical physics and Ph.D. physics programs such as those at University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, University of Michigan, Montana State, Vanderbilt, Rice, George Washington University, Washington State, Colorado State,   UNC-Chapel Hill, and the U.S. Navy Nuclear Propulsion Program. Others go on to serve the community as secondary school teachers or as workers and leaders in industry. 

 Other students whom we serve. 

In addition to our majors and minors, physics provides instruction for a large number of other programs at the university. In fact, more than 90% of the work we do as teachers is dedicated to general education courses and to service courses for other disciplines (such as engineering, chemistry, mathematics, and the various biological and health-related sciences). The teaching mission of the department. GVSU physics faculty members are dedicated to providing quality innovative, student-centered, rigorous instruction to all students who elect to study physics as well as to those who are required to study physics. We strive to use active-learning techniques in which students obtain firsthand experience with physical phenomena and work closely with us and with their peers. Thus our teaching effectiveness is greatly enhanced by having small class sizes and appropriately equipped classrooms and laboratories. These facilities must include sufficient resources for the maintenance and acquisition of equipment for classroom demonstrations, service-course laboratories, and upper-level laboratories. As is reported consistently in physics education research literature, teaching environments that meet all of these needs are essential for the meaningful learning of physics.[3] 

 The scholarship of the department. 

GVSU physics faculty value research as a crucial venue for professional development and for making contributions to the field. Much of the independent research by faculty is made possible by collaborating with colleagues from other institutions. Faculty also value student research as a unique form of teaching. In fact, a key to the success of our majors is their capstone experience; every physics major is required to complete a full-year independent research project under personal supervision of a faculty member and to present the results in appropriate venues. The capstone provides a unique transition for our students from the classroom to professions in physics research or education. (Further details are provided in Appendix A of the Assessment Plan.)

 The service mission of the department

 Many physics faculty engage in service and scholarly work without non-teaching significant focus time to support such efforts. Essentially all are actively engaged in university service activities such as Regional Science Olympiad and workshops for in-service and pre-service teachers. Recent shifts in composition of department faculty. The physics department has become accustomed to searching and hiring new faculty members almost annually, however since AY 2008-09 we have hired only new affiliate and visiting faculty. These hires have enabled some progress toward the target 9 + 3 workload stipulated in the Faculty Handbook for TT faculty (where at least 9 workload hours are allocated to teaching and as many as 3 hours may be allocated to significant focus activity). However, this shift in composition of physics faculty has had many negative consequences. We are increasingly relying on visiting and adjunct faculty to meet our teaching obligations; less than 40% of all teaching contact hours are delivered by TT faculty (to be contrasted with the stated GVSU goal of 70% or the CLAS goal of 65%). In addition, much of the non-teaching significant focus must be devoted to mentoring new faculty, particularly new visitors, and to the coordination of multiple lecture sections and labs of the same course. Thus with a significantly smaller percentage of departmental TT faculty, and with growing enrollments in our service classes, it is becoming increasingly difficult both to maintain high teaching standards and to sustain the scholarship and service missions of the department.

[1] R. Ivie, S. White, A. Garrett, G. Anderson, Women among Physics and Astronomy Faculty, , College Park, MD: American Institute of Physics (2013)

[2] Starr Nicholson and Patrick J. Mulvey, Roster of Physics Departments with Enrollment and Degree Data, College Park MD: American Institute of Physics (2014)

[3] L.C. McDermott, What we teach and what is learned: Closing the gap, Am. J. Phys. 59 (4), 301 (1991), E. F. Redish and R.N Steinberg, Teaching physics: Figuring out what works, Phys. Today, 52 (1), 24-30 (1999), and R. R. Hake, Interactive-engagement versus traditional methods: A six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses, Am. J. Phys. 66, 64 (1998).


Physics, as a natural science, is a core component of a liberal education, and learning science requires the development and application of critical thinking skills to the natural and man-made world. The members of the physics department are devoted to learning and teaching about the ways in which the physical aspects of our existence can be understood and shaped by qualitative and quantitative reasoning within the framework of physics, the foundation of the natural sciences.


The physics department contributes to an extraordinary liberal education experience for faculty and students by continually developing courses, programs, research experiences, and outreach activities to foster the learning of physics. We strive to maintain high quality teaching in all of our classes. We change the way our students view the world, and prepare students for diverse career opportunities by developing a strong foundation of physics knowledge and critical thinking abilities, laboratory skills, and quantitative literacy. We are a pillar of support for regional in-service science teachers by expanding and making more accessible professional development opportunities.

Value Statement

(1) We value excellent teaching by highly qualified faculty in classes with student-teacher ratios that are amenable to effective active-learning techniques. (2) We value hands-on problem-posing, integrated teaching methods that help students develop into scientifically literate citizens. (3) We value faculty engagement in fundamental and applied research for its contribution to the larger physics community and as it informs our teaching and/or invites student participation. (4) We value regular and predictable course schedules and budgets so we can give a solid education to our students without extending time to graduation. (5) We value contribution to the university community through a variety of interdisciplinary efforts and liberal education initiatives. (6) We value contributions to the community beyond the university through a variety of outreach activities.

Strategic Priorities, outcomes, and key objectives

Strategic Priority Area 1: Actively engage learners at all levels.

Outcome A: Grand Valley's learning environment is personal, challenging, and transformational, supporting excellent academic programs and co-curricular opportunities.

Objective 1.A.1

Teach our introductory courses in student-centered ways.


All sections of 72 or more students have at least one per week, and normally two, discussion sections of no larger than 32 students. In cases where the discussion is greater than that, the lecture size is smaller as well.

Objective 1.A.2

Improve introductory labs for PHY 220 and 221.


Current labs have not been updated in 15 years.

Objective 1.A.4

Offer our upper level majors courses in a reliable fashion.


Cancelling 3 elective courses per year and running slightly more than 2 electives per year (one per semester). Establish baselines of number of students affected in AY 2016-17.

Objective 1.A.5

Broaden our curriculum to meet the needs of a wider range of students.


No Issues courses offered. All Natural Science Foundation courses have a lab.

Objective 1.A.6

Review and update our curriculum for the physics major.


Current PHY curriculum offerings.

Outcome B: Grand Valley is diverse and inclusive.

Objective 1.B.1

Attract and retain a diverse student body.


Baseline for PHY to be established in AY 2016-17 via survey. National averages from the American Physical Society (APS) are 21% of bachelors degrees are awarded to women and no baseline for all minorities (will investigate the data in 2016).

Outcome C: Grand Valley has mutually beneficial relationships, partnerships, collaborations, and connections with local, state, national, and world communities.

Objective 1.C.1

Increase the number of majors who obtain internships.


To be established over the AY 2016-17 and 2017-18 by survey asking how many students want to do an internship.

Objective 1.C.2

Encourage student participation in service activities.


Establish baseline in AY 2016-17 by monitoring students participating in service activities.

Outcome D: Grand Valley supports innovative teaching, learning, integrative scholarly and creative activity, and the use of new technologies.

Objective 1.D.1

Improve tutoring support for introductory physics courses.


Work with Student Academic Support Center (SASC) in AY 2016-17 to establish baseline on average size of tutoring group and student satisfaction with tutoring support.

Objective 1.D.2

Encourage student participation in research projects.


Establish baseline in 2016 by looking at 3-year average of students participating in internal research at GVSU (for example S3 or department sponsored, 499 projects) and external research programs (SULI, REU, etc.). Also survey students in AY 2016-17 to understand how many are aware of research opportunities.

Strategic Priority Area 2: Further develop exceptional personnel.

Outcome A: Grand Valley's learning environment is personal, challenging, and transformational, supporting excellent academic programs and co-curricular opportunities.

Objective 2.A.1

Reduce our reliance on adjunct faculty (affiliate, visiting, part-time).


15 Tenure-track, 3 affiliate; 6 visiting instructors; 3- 4 full-time equivalent of part-time faculty (8  12 faculty members). Currently 40% of contact hours are taught by TT faculty.

Outcome B: Grand Valley is diverse and inclusive.

Objective 2.B.1

Attract and retain a diverse faculty.


In tenure-track positions we have 13% women and 13% minorities; of total permanent faculty, women = 26% and minorities = 11%. The national averages from American Institute of Physics (2012) are 14% women (this number includes PT faculty) and 20.8% minority (2.1% African-American, 3.2% Hispanic, 14.3% Asian, 1.2% other).

Outcome D: Grand Valley supports innovative teaching, learning, integrative scholarly and creative activity, and the use of new technologies.

Objective 2.D.1

Improve our mentoring of new faculty.


In our current program (a) new faculty members are assigned peer mentors and (b) there is a weekly group meeting that is mostly focused on teaching.

Outcome E: Grand Valley strategically allocates its fiscal, human, and other institutional resources.

Objective 2.E.1

Encourage participation in faculty governance.


Maintain levels of participation in baseline to be established.

Strategic Priority Area 3: Ensure the alignment of institutional structures and functions.

Strategic Priority Area 4: Enhance the institution's image and reputation.

Outcome A: Grand Valley's learning environment is personal, challenging, and transformational, supporting excellent academic programs and co-curricular opportunities.

Objective 4.A.1

Develop in our students the ability to communicate the results of scientific work in a professional venue.


Develop a database of student activities and establish baseline data for a three year average from 2015  17 of internal and external presentations.

Outcome C: Grand Valley has mutually beneficial relationships, partnerships, collaborations, and connections with local, state, national, and world communities.

Objective 4.C.1

Encourage faculty involvement with the community.


Establish three year average (2016 - 18) of number of outreach events, media opportunities, and service activities done by physics faculty count number of service activity requests the department was unable to support.

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