Presented by Dean David A. Vanko at the Fisher College Fall Forum
At last year’s Fall Forum, we were anticipating the arrival of a new President, Dr. Maravene S. Loeschke, in January 2012. I built my “State of the College” talk around the one-page description of the FCSM that we put together for the President’s transition book. This year, we are anticipating the arrival, in January 2013, of our new Provost, Dr. Timothy Chandler. So we recently were asked put together a five-page contribution for his transition book. I’d like to review what we presented to Dr. Chandler, as a brief snapshot of the State of the Fisher College. If you’d like to look at the document in it’s entirely, we will post it to the FCSM web site.
We divided the overview into four sections: Academic Programs, our College Culture, our College Initiatives, and some Points of Pride.
The Fisher College now serves 2,615 undergraduate majors and 806 graduate students. Every major has grown relative to the overall campus growth rate, and the college as a whole has grown in undergraduates by 51% over the past seven years – a time period where overall TU undergraduates grew by 17%. This is a factor of three difference!
We’re proud of our academic accreditations in computer science, professional chemistry, forensic science and teacher education, and of our designation for many years as a National Security Agency Center of Excellence in Information Assurance Education.
We’re blessed in the Fisher College with 10 full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty members in science education, and 12 in mathematics education – numbers that we have grown strategically to serve academic programs in STEM teacher preparation at the elementary, middle and secondary levels.
Our portfolio of academic choices for students includes strong interdisciplinary programs – Environmental Science and Studies; Molecular Biology, Biochemistry and Bioinformatics; the School of Emerging Technologies; and the Urban Environmental Biogeochemistry Lab. Our programs respond to workforce and BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) needs, with the MS in Applied Information Technology, BS in Information Technology, and science education programs all in Harford County. And our two Professional Science Masters degrees in Forensic Science and Applied Physics are particularly workforce-focused.
Equally important as our academic programs, how do we describe the culture of the FCSM? First, we value student diversity and work to eliminate the achievement gap. We’ve been very lucky to get external support of about $3.5M from NSF and NIH for Towson Opportunities in STEM (TOPS), the Bridges to the Baccalaureate, the Cosmic Scholars and the Physics Scholars. One result – while 14.1% of Towson University undergraduates are African-American, undergraduates in the Fisher College are 18.9% African-American. Now, obtaining accurate information on whether we have an achievement gap is the next thing we need to do.
We are also interested in diversity and family-friendliness at the faculty and staff level. Kick-starting our efforts has been the NSF ADVANCE grant that focuses on the work environment for women in STEM, and we have drawn up and are implementing a college-wide Diversity Action Plan.
Perhaps the most longstanding FCSM tradition that illustrates our culture is our support for undergraduate research and travel. We are now devoting over $30,000 per year from our budget for traditional undergraduate research projects. New this year, we’ve devoted $250,000 of Fisher General Endowment proceeds to begin a number of faculty-initiated projects that extend hands-on authentic research experiences to whole class sections and larger numbers of students.
Faculty members in the Fisher College, we told the new Provost, view teaching and research as equally important to our mission. Faculty who do not intend to become excellent teachers, and put in the time to do so, will not be successful here. And those who can’t back up their teaching mission with a foundation of scholarship are similarly at risk.
Here are a few college initiatives that we described to the incoming Provost. One is Towson UTeach. We are now one of 34 institutions who are replicating this program that prepares STEM teachers for high schools. Among the other replicators one finds names such as Northern Arizona, Arkansas, Berkeley, California- Irvine, Colorado, Florida State, Florida, Kansas, LSU, and Tennessee. I’d say that Towson is in good company.
Another major initiative is our School of Emerging Technologies, which just began one year ago. We are already seeing results from a number of interdisciplinary research programs seeded through the SET.
Next Fall, the newly renovated Richmond Hall will be a new STEM Residential Learning Community. Building on some smaller pilots, Associate Dean Gasparich proposed the STEM dorm and got it approved by the university. This should be a very exciting project!
Our STEM education, teacher preparation and outreach initiatives are all focused on the STEM pipeline from cradle to grave. This is an important piece of what the Fisher College does, and should be well known for.
Finally, we told the Provost about the TU Field Station in its third year of operation, the Glen Arboretum which has been an official entity with a Board of Directors for two years, and the upcoming building initiative that will transform Smith Hall from a 1965-era teacher’s college science building to a modern learning and research environment for the next several generations.
Points of Pride:
The FCSM has many, many points of pride, and our five-page limit for the Provost is nearing. Here’s what we sent: First, FCSM is known for a broad and diverse external funding portfolio. Our basic and applied research grants far surpass those of any ordinary comprehensive institution. Plus, we have, and value, the numerous scholarship and professional development programs initiated by faculty members. In FY12, 86 faculty members (out of about 130 FT tenured or tenure-track faculty) wrote 78 grant proposals requesting $21.1 million. Grants awarded to FCSM amounted to $6.1 million in FY11 and $2.8 million in FY12. So far in FY13 (as of November 2), FCSM has been awarded $2.5 million.
We’re proud of our students’ success in cyber security, where student teams have advance to the Nationals twice in the past three years, placing 4th and 5th nationally, and “losing” to the likes of University of Washington and Texas A&M. And recently the CIS department was awarded over $2 million from the NSF for cyber security education.
One point of pride that we should remember is that the Fisher College is the only named college at Towson University – named because of $10.36 million given to us by the Robert M. Fisher Memorial Foundation. Operating funds support the two Fisher Scholarship programs, the Fisher Endowed Chair program, and the General Endowment. And as I mentioned earlier, this year and possibly for the next two or three, we’ll devote the bulk of the endowment to student success in hands-on research experiences.
Finally, our list of points of pride highlighted our faculty, and just as a sample we noted two recent Elkins Professors awarded by the University System of Maryland, three very prestigious NSF CAREER grants, and recent USM Regents Awards for teaching, mentoring, public service, and scholarship.
I would like also to recognize publicly the sixth Jess & Mildred Fisher Endowed Chair-holder, Assistant Professor Meghan May from Biological Sciences. Congratulations, Dr. May!
Robert Maranto, who is the 21st Century Chair in Leadership in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, wrote a piece recently in the Baltimore Sun about what makes a good school. He was writing about public K-12 schools, but I read the piece in light of the question, what makes a good College? I think Maranto’s observations work for us. First, a good college is transparent – we communicate freely and have nothing to hide. Second, a good college is honest – if you ask about our problems, we will tell you. Third, in good colleges, administrators and teachers put their work ahead of themselves, without obsessing too much about pay, titles, or turf. Fourth, a good college challenges students and teachers by measuring student achievement, and both high- and low-scoring students improve from where they started. Fifth, a good college is positive. Let’s always keep positive.
I appreciate all the hard work and the impressive results of our faculty, staff and students. Thank you so much for making my work in the dean’s office a pleasure. I hope everyone has a great year, and please enjoy the rest of today’s celebration.
The Jess and Mildred Fisher
College of Science and Mathematics
Smith Hall, Room 312 (campus map)