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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2011 / 10 

Two departments, one program recognized with 2011 University Exemplary Department or Program Award

October 20, 2011

Pictured left to right are (top row) Eilleen Van Aken, G. Don Taylor, and Joe Eska; (bottom row) Susan Clark and Heather Cox.
Pictured left to right are (top row) Eilleen Van Aken, G. Don Taylor, and Joe Eska; (bottom row) Susan Clark and Heather Cox.

Two departments and one program, including the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering in the College of Engineering; the Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences; and the Dietetics program in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise, in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, have been selected as recipients of the 2011 University Exemplary Department or Program Award.

Presented annually since 1994, the University Exemplary Department or Program Awards Program and ceremony are funded through the Office of the Provost and facilitated by the Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research within the Division of Undergraduate Education. The awards program was established as a part of the University's Faculty Rewards Project, and seeks to clarify the expectations of faculty and define appropriate rewards for accomplishments.

The award recipients will be honored at recognition ceremony on Wednesday, Nov. 2, at the Inn at Virginia Tech from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Latham Ballroom. All members of the university are invited to attend and encouraged to register.

Each department will receive a portion of the $40,000 award for their achievements in effectively linking assessment with instruction to improve student learning, the annual theme set forth by the University Exemplary Department or Program Awards Committee. 

Senior Vice President and Provost Mark McNamee and Vice President and Dean for Undergraduate Education Daniel Wubah will make presentations to the winning department representatives.

A complete list of past Exemplary Department Award winners, along with the theme of the award for each year, is available online.

Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering

The Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, which began in 1920 at Virginia Tech, currently has over 500 undergraduate students, about 250 graduate students, and 27 faculty.  The undergraduate program and graduate programs are ranked No. 7 and No. 4 respectively by U.S. News and World Report.

The department underwent a major redesign of its assessment system in the 2005-06 academic year that now include such mechanisms as an annual student survey and focus groups, direct student learning measures from required courses, external assessment of senior design projects, a constructive curriculum review session, an alumni survey, and an employer survey. These mechanisms are used to assess the department’s program educational objectives (achievements of graduates within three to five years of graduation) and student outcomes (capabilities of students at the time of graduation). 

Assessment data from required course offerings are reviewed every year and a major review and decision-making process are conducted every two years.  Multiple assessment mechanisms enable the department to use both quantitative and qualitative data, both objective and subjective data, as well as both course-level and program-level data. 

Examples of recent improvement actions defined directly from assessment system results have been to improve students’ exposure to probability (required prerequisite knowledge to core industrial and systems engineering courses), launching an annual Undergraduate Research Symposium to increase student participation in undergraduate research, and initiating an annual departmental Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTA) orientation session to improve student perceptions of GTA support in the classroom. All departmental faculty members and the external advisory board are involved in the designing/redesigning of the assessment system and reviewing results annually. 

“Having spent five years on the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology Engineering Accreditation Commission and another five years as an industrial engineer program visitor, it is my considered opinion that the industrial and systems engineering program assessment materials I viewed during my time on the [Industrial and Systems Engineering] Advisory Board at Virginia Tech were, beyond any doubt, the best I had ever seen,” notes Bill Biles, an endowed chair holder at the University of Louisville, and past department head at two other prestigious [industrial and systems engineering] programs in the United States. 

Department of English

The Department of English enrolls more than 500 undergraduate English majors and several hundred minors. The department is home to more than 80 award-winning faculty and nearly 50 GTAs. The department offers programs in literature, language, and culture; creative writing; and rhetoric and writing and teaches numerous courses for the liberal education curriculum.

The Department of English creates outstanding learning environments for students by embedding assessment into instructional design in highly collaborative and innovative ways. Three signature projects exemplify the department’s approach.

A celebration of student writing, "Composition at Virginia Tech: Written, Spoken, and Visual Communication" features the works of 15 Virginia Tech undergraduates spanning multiple majors and disciplines. The co-authored text used by every composition student at the university is aligned with learning outcomes defined by the Council of Writing Program Administrators.

Since its launch in 2006, the annual English Undergraduate Conference has become the centerpiece for a community of practice supportive of undergraduate research and sustained through extraordinary collaborations among students, faculty, administrators, and staff. Annual assessments have contributed to the success of the conference and faculty review of submissions has provided insight into student learning.

Serving as the cornerstone to the department’s undergraduate program assessment is the ePortfolio tool, which reviews student learning outcomes and fosters the development of student engagement and leadership. “The ePortfolio project has had a profound impact on learning as well as teaching,” notes Debra Stoudt, associate dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. “The impact is measured not in a single course, but across the English curriculum — and not solely in the Department of English, but in other disciplines and units across the Virginia Tech campus.”

Dietetics program in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise

The Dietetics program, one of four undergraduate options in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise, enrolls approximately 130 students. The success of the Dietetic program is evidenced in two benchmarks of its graduates, in that 80 percent of graduates are accepted to post-graduation dietetic internships compared to the national average of 50 percent. Equally significant is the 100-percent pass rate of post-graduation National Registration Examination for Dietitians in 2010 and 2011. 

Dietetics has an innovative, multidimensional program assessment plan that is collaboratively evaluated and enhanced on a consistent basis by both faculty and students. Central to the assessment plan is the dietetics assessment-based ePortfolio system. It enables faculty to assess student learning, improve teaching, and modify program curriculum, while allowing students to demonstrate evidence of meeting the dietetic student learning outcomes via a published ePortfolio. 

“The faculty members in dietetics have developed an assessment process that increases student learning and provides information for curricular change,” asserts Steve Culver, associate director in the Office of Assessment and Evaluation.

Kate McConnell, assistant director in Office of Assessment and Evaluation, heralds the Dietetic program for empowering students to be active participants in their own learning. “Dietetics was among the first programs on campus to meaningfully integrate ePortfolio technology into its curriculum. Its approach to assessment is organic, learner-centered, and focused on improvement.  It serves as a model of what is possible when student learning outcomes assessment is meaningfully incorporated in a program’s scholarly practice.” 

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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