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Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences
Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences (APS)
Undergraduate Outcomes Assessment
Activity in 2001-02
The Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences (APS) is
devoted to teaching and research in astrophysics, planetary
sciences, and space physics. Sharing a common scientific heritage
of applied physical studies in the space sciences, these areas have
a common APS core curriculum and look to the same major national
funding sources (NASA, NSF, DOE). The APS department takes pride in
being a major CU research unit with a commitment to science
education. APS faculty have been involved in many campus
initiatives, ranging from the Arts & Sciences core curriculum to
innovations and educational uses of information technology (IT). All
21 rostered faculty members have active research programs with a
large amount of sponsored funding ($14.2M in 2000-2001).
All APS fall/spring courses are taught by faculty members; our TAs
are used in support roles, such as leading laboratories, assisting
with lectures and telescope sessions, and holding office hours. In
APS general education classes, our students are brought face-to-face
with leading space scientists who are active in research and often
are the authors of national textbooks in the field.
Both the Internal Review Committee (IRC) and the External Review
Committee (ERC) found that the APS undergraduate program was strong.
They were astonished at the rapid growth in our new major, from zero
to 92 majors in the span of two years. Our major is now one of the
top undergraduate degree programs in Astronomy and Astrophysics in
the U.S. It evidently fills a long-needed demand among the CU
undergraduates in the physical sciences (and in Engineering, where
APS provides a popular minor degree and second-degree option).
However, the ERC did express some uneasiness about the extremely
rapid expansion of our undergraduate program over the last two
years. Their sub-section in their report was titled "The
Undergraduate Program: A Victim of its Success?" In their report,
they go on to state that "Some of our concerns have been laid to
rest". Their continuing worries center around the lack of APS
faculty resources to teach the ambitious curriculum, offer research
opportunities, and provide one-on-one advising. They also express
concern over the lack of contiguous space for APS faculty and
students. All of these issues were identified in our Self-Study
report and are goals of our department.
Some relevant quotes from the External Review Committee report are given below:
"We remain concerned that the new program may strain all resources
of the department, and in ways yet to be understood. The bulge of
of majors has not yet moved through all four years, and indeed it
may take several years after that to judge the success of the program,
as the status of recent graduates is an excellent empirical metric."
"Several contributing factors make strengthening the faculty complement
in APS one of our highest priority recommendations. First is the
need for faculty support of the undergraduate program discussed above."
"The distinct laboratories that comprise the department are in themselves
excellent, and at the core of the intellectual strength of APS.
Nevertheless, the particularly stark division of faculty, postdocs, and
students into these apparently physically and administratively disjoint
laboratories is in our experience somewhat unusual and inhibits
APS has 21 rostered faculty, 45-50 graduate students, and a new
undergrad major (B.A. in Astronomy) with 92 majors (fall 2002). We
have 3 research faculty and 20-25 affiliated faculty from CU
institutes (JILA, LASP), centers (CASA), and Boulder labs (NCAR/HAO,
Southwest Research Institute). Statistics on our undergraduate
program were recently compiled for the APS Self-Study and Program
UNDERGRADUATE CURRICULUM AND PROGRAMS
APS is a major contributor to CU general educational programs, with
12 regularly taught courses on the A&S core curriculum. Our 1000-
level General Astronomy courses currently reach approximately 1600
students per semester, while our non-major 2000-level courses on
Modern Cosmology, Black Holes, Ancient Astronomies, and Extra-
Terrestrial Life always fill to capacity (70-150 students each).
APS now generates over 12,000 student credit hours per year, or 500
SCH/FTE/yr, one of the best productivities in the Natural Sciences.
Our Astronomy major core-sequence, ASTR 1030/1040 (Accelerated Introductory
Astronomy) has recently expanded by 40%, requiring us to open new lab sections.
Many of these courses are being taught with innovative curricular techniques
and make use of our unique facilities at Fiske Planetarium and Sommers-Bausch Observatory (SBO).
Acting on the 1995 Program Review recommendation, APS developed a
new undergraduate degree program. Effective June 2000, we offer a
B.A. degree in Astronomy with two tracks (General Astronomy and
Astrophysics/Physics). Requirements are listed at
http://aps.colorado.edu/undergrad/majortracks.html. As of fall
2002, we have 92 registered majors and 27 minors. Our degree will
likely increase to around 100 majors, as we fill out students in all
four years. This rate of growth is more rapid than we proposed to
the CCHE and Regents for our new degree program.
Our stated rationale for a B.A. in Astronomy is to provide CU
undergraduates with educational and research opportunities available
in a nationally renowned research department. As a result, we can
provide opportunities for student involvement with active faculty
researchers in the space sciences, including senior (Honors) theses.
Our majors receive career advising and information on research
opportunities from a CU-supported professional advisor for
Physics/Astronomy, Mark Berge, and from a group of 8 APS faculty
GOALS OF DEGREE PROGRAM
According to our degree proposal to CCHE, the specific goals for the APS major are:
- To provide theoretical and practical knowledge of astrophysics
and planetary sciences at a level comparable to the best programs at
U.S. public institutions. The APS Department is one of the only
programs that combines both astrophysics and planetary science.
As a result, we avoid duplications of overlapping curriculum and provide
a unified view of space sciences. Through these efficiencies, we provide
our students with detailed current understanding of topics ranging from
solar system formation and comparative planetology to stellar and galactic
astronomy and cosmology.
- To provide "hands-on" experience with telescopes, optics, instrumentation,
computer image processing and data modeling. These skills are useful for
students wishing to pursue graduate degrees or careers in aerospace,
technical, or computer industries. Integration of research and technical
experience with coursework is consistent with the educational recommendations
in the Boyer Commission report.
- To provide tracks within the degree to best serve the diverse needs of
students: (1) the General Astronomy track (for careers in space science,
science education, science writing, science policy); (2) the
Astrophysics/Physics track (for students wishing to pursue graduate
work in the physical sciences, engineering, or computer science).
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