Submitted Fall, 2004
The assessment report of the sociology program will vary from year to year dependent upon the course offerings that specifically address the assessment program that is in place for the sociology program. The last assessment report included data and information on the majority of the learning objectives since the two major courses were offered during that assessment cycle. This data is recorded in the 2002-2003 Assessment Report on file.
During the next assessment cycle, the 2004-2005 Academic Year assessment, there will be information available from both the SOC 370 Sociological Research (the title of this course was altered to reflect a broader range of sociological research for inclusion in the course) and SOC 468 The Senior Seminar. Since these courses are offered on approximately a three semester rotation basis, the type of data will vary from year to year.
For the assessment process during the 2003-2004 academic year, data are not available from either the SOC 370 or 468 since these courses were not offered during the 2003-2004 academic year. Data for this year's academic assessment come from a Focus Group held in the spring of 2004.
The Focus Group assessment event fulfills an indirect measure of Mission Statement Eight: Sociological Citizenship. The Focus Group was set up by the Director of Sociology and conducted by an academic faculty member in the College and a Staff member at the University. Invitations were sent out to eight students who were graduating. Six responded that they would try to participate but only three students participated.
The Focus Group Facilitators had a pre-prepared set of questions that were prepared by the program assessment team that they worked with to initiate discussions on a number of topics. This report presents the questions and a summary of the responses to those items as well as information on follow-up questions and responses. The Focus Group convened on May 5, 2004.
- Let's spend a few minutes on your career goals. Briefly tell us what career you intend to pursue after graduation
All three respondents indicated that they were either thinking about or actively pursuing graduate programs. When asked whether the department encourages graduate work, there was an emphatic yes.
- What have you learned to prepare you for your career?
All three respondents reported that the sociology program prepared them for their careers in two specific ways: by assisting them in seeing the world more objectively and by preparing them to engage in writing and research skills. One respondent acknowledged the importance of including an undergraduate publication on his resume. Another reported that he presented his research paper at a conference. All respondents agreed that members of the department worked with them and did a good job doing so.
- What types of experiences have you had where you considered and used ideas from your courses and how you might be able to use sociological insights and knowledge to deal with your social circumstances?
All focus group members reported that their perspective toward the world had changed as a function of being enrolled in the program. They no longer looked at the world through 'rose -colored glasses" and believed that they were now more aware of the different perspectives other cultures had to offer. They believed that their objectivity toward others was greater now than when they began the program.
- Pretend that you will serve as an advisor to a new student sociology major next year. Unfortunately, your mentorship must be contained in only one piece of advice. What one piece of advice would you give to a new student? (After they have responded to the first question, then ask:) What would you advise them about becoming involved in social organizations here on the campus, in the city, etc?
The respondents had many recommendations for new students entering the program. Respondents encouraged students to attend class and to take courses in the recommended order. One student became a Sociology major later in his academic career and therefore took some courses as they were offered rather than in the recommended sequence. He believed he struggled in some of the upper level courses because of that but also commended the department on their willingness to work with him in making sure he had all of the courses necessary to graduate. He also blamed this scheduling issue on his own failure to meet with an advisor and all three respondents recommended that future students meet with advisors early to set up their programs. Another student stressed the importance of not remaining undecided for so long. When asked about participating in campus or community organizations, the majority of respondents indicated that scheduling conflicts were the primary reason they did not belong. One respondent reported attending some round table discussions with Daryl that he enjoyed. Another suggested that he enjoyed a couple of the events sponsored by the Sociology Club and attending Sociology Club meetings had given him the opportunity to discuss important issues. It is important to note that 2 of the 3 respondents were non-traditional age and that at least one commuted from out-of- town.
- We would like to know about your experiences with the curriculum, both positive and negative. Did you learn what you should have learned, do you think? Should there be other required courses in the program of study? Are there other things or courses you wish you had had a chance to take while here? Are there other things that you wish you had learned?
When asked whether they thought there were an adequate number of upper level classes and whether those classes were offered frequently enough, students were split on their responses. Two of the respondents believed the course offerings were more than adequate; one believed the program could be supplemented by special topics courses in the professors' areas of interest. The students were in agreement that they liked more applied courses. They referred to those as courses that use something they can see. They also were encouraged by faculty members' use of technology and especially enjoyed faculty members' use of Internet in the classroom. Finally, students would like assistance in learning how to write grants. The majority of the respondents saw grant writing as part of their future careers and indicated that experience with that would be helpful for students.
- Overall, what would you say are the best aspects of the program in sociology? What do you think is something that you would consider most needing changed about the sociology program?
When asked what they thought were the best aspects of the program the respondents overwhelmingly reported the faculty. Professors are always willing to help and easy to talk to. Students reported that faculty members do a nice job of blending the classic sociological theories with modern examples.
When asked what they would like to see changed the suggestion of special topics courses was reiterated. One respondent said that there should be more practical experiences for those students not planning on going to graduate school. He went on to suggest that students (especially those not planning graduate school careers) could participate in an internship opportunity similar to what Criminal Justice offers.
Based on the previous year's experience we asked follow-up question about whether they perceive faculty as getting along. The respondents indicated they felt there was some contention between some faculty members but they were not sure where it came from. They did not think it was something that most students see. One respondent suggested that this type of issue probably happens in every department and that he had never heard or heard of faculty making negative remarks about one another.
Conclusions and Recommendations:
According to the comments of these students, and laced throughout the comments are the fact that they see the faculty as a major strength of their program here in sociology. They see the faculty as willing to work with them in a variety of ways, easy to talk with, blend the classical theories with contemporary life, their excellent advising by making sure that they are able to get the classes needed to fill their obligations, that the faculty worked with them on career goals, and that they were encouraged to consider and pursue graduate programs.
Another theme addressed in the student comments has to do with the courses and the curriculum of the sociology major. Because many sociology majors decide to become a major in their late sophomore or early junior year, their opportunity to take courses in a suggested sequence as expressed in our developmental model and in our course scheduling becomes difficult. The focus group participants were quite pleased with the way the faculty worked with them to provide needed adjustments along the way and highly recommended that students seek advisement from the faculty. Starting this upcoming enrollment for the spring semester, all students will be required to visit with their advisor.
Of interest to the faculty are the comments by the focus group participants about the courses available to them and the semester course offerings provided. One topic focused on the upper level course offerings in the department and the semester offerings. The respondents considered them adequate or more than adequate while there was also interest in the Special Topic course offering in the catalog. Perhaps this interest was identified since there were two Special Topic courses offered during the 2003-2004 academic year. In the fall of 2003, Dr. Borchard offered a Special Topics course titled: Sociology of the Holocaust and Dr. Wysocki offered a Special Topics course titled: Sociology of Sexuality in the spring of 2004. The department is engaging in discussions about including more of these courses. The students also indicated that they would like to see more applied courses, courses that use something they can 'see'. Perhaps assumed here or related was their suggestion that internships might be encouraged as a way to have applied experiences or to 'see'. Internship opportunities are available. We have had five students engage in internship experiences over the past two academic years and students make inquiries about these opportunities. It's possible we might consider a more formal approach to this opportunity.
Another suggestion by the students was their interest in writing applications for grants. They consider that they will be doing this in their future careers and that exposure to this process would have been of value. It is perhaps important that the program consider having students be more active on student grant opportunities on this campus and eventually work on more substantial grants as they matriculate to higher course work levels.
Students indicated that perceive that they have been exposed to and been prepared for careers in several ways: by having been enabled to see the world more objectively toward others and the perspectives of other cultures and by being exposed to and practicing research and writing skills. These students not only engaged in these activities within their classes but also participated in a number of local university research conferences as well as the Nebraska Undergraduate Sociological Symposium. The program needs to consider how we can encourage and develop better approaches to develop student abilities and talents among a larger number of our graduates.
Developing a greater sense of involvement and integration among the students in the program was a topic of comments by these participants. For the most part, they did not belong or participate to any large degree in the Sociology Club due to a number of reasons including; scheduling conflicts and the fact that these students were also non-traditional students with one commuting to the university. This is a type of student that find it difficult to add more activities to their work and study expectations.
Because of a area of student comment about the faculty in the 2002-2003 Focus Group assessment activity, the Facilitators in this assessment followed up on those comments. The comments referred to faculty conflict that spilled out into observable and unsettling implications for students and the learning climate that this fostered as seen by one of the students. In the follow up in this year's assessment, the respondents had heard that there was some contention but could not identify where it came from and did not think it was something that most students would perceive or be aware of. One participant suggested that this would not be unusual for any department and that they had never heard faculty making negative remarks about other faculty members.
Use of Results:
As indicated throughout the Conclusions and Recommendation section, our program has moved to alter the curriculum in the last year to more closely align our curriculum with our ability to offer courses in a more systematic and cyclical manner. We have offered and are considering other courses that we might include under the SOC 495 Special Topics course category. The two courses we offered had an enrollment of 12 and 19 students.
In general, our future sociology faculty meetings will begin to address a number of the other issues that were raised in the Focus Group: integrating and involving more of the majors in the Sociology Club, encouraging more student research papers in upper level classes to enhance the possibilities for students to present their work at the various conferences available to them and provide, in the advising now beginning for all students, appropriate information for both advisors and students so that their experiences in the program will continue to be positive and meaningful.
As a program, we will need to consider two curricular issues that came up in the discussions: grant writing experience and the applied sociology interest.
Observations of the Process:
It was a disappointment that only three of the eight graduating seniors were available to participate in the Focus Group. We might want to consider another focus group assessment occurring each semester so as to make this experience more available to the students in the process of their course work rather than only at the end of their academic career.
It is possible that we should consider some additional assessment instruments that would gather data on a more regular basis since a considerable amount of the learning objectives are only captured when the Sociological Research and the Senior Seminar courses are offered. The faculty will be considering this structural characteristic of the assessment program.