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September 16, 2002
Volume 80, Number 37
CENEAR 80 37 p. 34
ISSN 0009-2347


Hamline University reshapes science curriculum to better meet the needs of industrial employers


Three-fourths of Hamline University's science graduates find work in industry, either immediately after graduation or after completing graduate school. But the Natural Science Division's curriculum emphasizes preparation for graduate and professional schools, according to assistant chemistry professor Joann M. Pfeiffer. In addition, "most faculty have little or no substantial for-profit workplace experience." As a result, "many characteristics valued by workplace professionals aren't being addressed."


SILVER-TONGUED Participants in Hamline's speaking competition included chemistry major Maria Mattison (from left); biology major Marcus Noyes; biology major Catherine Angle, who won the $500 first-place prize; math and physics major Brian Hart; and chemistry major Molly Warnke. PHOTO BY PRESLEY MARTIN

Faculty in the St. Paul, Minn., university's Natural Science Division wanted to better prepare their students for careers in industry, but they lacked the background to do so. To fill the information void, they invited local workplace professionals to develop a list of characteristics that they would value in graduates whom they would consider hiring. Backed by $534,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation's Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry, the university used this input to modify its natural science curriculum. Pfeiffer reported on the results in a paper presented before the Division of Chemical Education during the American Chemical Society meeting in Boston last month.

During its fact-finding phase, the university approached employers that tend to hire its students, including 3M, H.B. Fuller, Honeywell, Land O'Lakes, and the state government. The employers came up with a list of traits they seek, ranging from the specific, such as knowledge of experimental design and statistics, to the general, including a strong work ethic and a broad-based education.

Two Hamline faculty members--Olaf Runquist, an emeritus chemistry professor, and biology professor John Brennan Jr.--then looked for ways to address these needs. They came up with five areas in which the Natural Science Division could improve student preparation: communication skills, technical course development, industrial organization, team problem solving, and cultural competency. Each area was assigned a team consisting of faculty, students, and employees of 3M.

3M, in fact, had a large role in the reform project. The NSF grant supported faculty internships at 3M "so that faculty could figure out what it's like to work in industry," Pfeiffer told C&EN. Students also did research internships at the company.

HAMLINE DEVELOPED numerous methods to improve its curriculum. For instance, the school improved its teaching of technical skills such as statistics and error analysis by standardizing terminology and teaching methods among the different classes that incorporate these topics and by ensuring that students are repeatedly exposed to the topics in their different courses. Hamline is also developing Web-based tutorials on statistics and general chemistry.

And Hamline is incorporating more teaching of communications skills in its current science courses through assignments such as writing an abstract of a journal article. Faculty also designed writing and speaking contests for students. Two students were selected from each of the four science departments to speak for 10 to 15 minutes about their research.

The communications team gathered other ideas for short writing assignments, along with advice on oral exams, how to grade writing assignments, and other guidance from sources such as the Journal of Chemical Education, and put these suggestions in a three-ring binder. And it set up six faculty lunches for the science faculty to exchange tips and share experiences.

The cultural-competency team introduced a workshop for sophomores that features a panel from industry answering questions about diversity, as well as a class titled "Technical Work, Conflict, and Teams." The course promotes understanding of the impact of cultural differences, extends team problem-solving skills, and introduces concepts basic to conflict.

Hamline is advising its science students to take a new introductory-level business and management course that was designed specifically for them. The course, which is debuting this fall, will be taught by a management and economics professor who prepared for the class by interning at 3M.

The team problem-solving group also adopted this learn-by-doing approach. They hired a consultant who teaches those in industry to work as teams, and then formed teams including administration and alumni to work on two issues important to Hamline: recruitment and retention of faculty of color, and development of an alumni network. These teams also helped the other teams work more efficiently.

Hamline is now devising ways to evaluate the impact of the changes on its students. But Pfeiffer, who has received positive feedback from her own students, noted that "much of the impact so far has been on the faculty."


Chemical & Engineering News
Copyright © 2002 American Chemical Society

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