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Graduate Assessment


Degrees

The Wildland Resources Department offers MS and PhD degrees in Wildlife Biology, Range Science, Forestry, and Ecology.

PhD Degrees
These are traditional research-based degree programs. Students are admitted only after they are accepted into, and funded by, the research program of an individual faculty member. Course work follows a plan of study developed in conjunction with a student’s major professor and their graduate committee. The plan of study must meet the core requirements of the department and graduate school and may include courses pertinent to the student’s research project and later career goals. PhD students getting an Ecology degree have additional course requirements, which can be checked here.  PhD students must demonstrate a mastery of course materials by passing a comprehensive examination given by their supervisory committee. PhD students must also successfully present their research proposal at a department-wide seminar their first year, and present research results at a department-wide seminar during their research program.  At the end of the program, students must defend their research as a significant original contribution to knowledge conducted in an ethical manner.

MS Degrees (Plan A)
These are traditional research-based degree programs. Students are admitted only after they are accepted into, and funded by, the research program of an individual faculty member. Course work follows a plan of study developed in conjunction with the student’s major professor and graduate committee. The plan of study must meet the core requirements of the department and graduate school and will also include courses pertinent to the student’s research project and later career goals. MS students getting an Ecology degree have additional course requirements, which can be checked here. MS students must successfully present their research proposal at a department-wide seminar their first year. Students must demonstrate a mastery of course materials to their supervisory committee during defense of their research conducted in an ethical manner.

Assessment Plan

Graduate education is characterized by expectations that include mastery of subject material greater than typically associated with undergraduate education. The MS and PhD degrees have additional expectations for original research and scholarly activity conducted in an ethical manner. The learning objectives allied with each degree are described following this outline of our assessment plan.

Mastery of subject material by individual students in the MS and PhD programs is assessed by their supervisory committee following standard procedures required by the graduate school and department. The learning objectives for students in these research-based programs are established through a plan of study for each student and approved by their supervisory committee. For doctoral students, competencies related to their plan of study are assessed during a comprehensive examination conducted by the supervisory committee. Final assessment of student competencies occurs during the defense of their thesis or dissertation, which is a reflection of how well the program has prepared the student to conduct research and think critically.

The department and university also collect outcomes data that provides feedback reflecting the overall performance of our programs on a holistic basis to augment the assessments of individual student learning provided by supervisory committees. This outcomes data is reviewed by the graduate program coordinator, department head, and department more generally leading to data-based decisions that ensure overall program objectives are being met.

In 2012 the Research and Graduate Studies office at USU required all departments to develop and publish a Five-year Graduate Program Plan. This plan includes sections on recruiting, mentoring, management, and funding. It can be found here . The plan includes our goals and strategies for making improvements in all four of these areas. We regularly revisit this plan to see how we are doing.

Learning Objectives

The learning objectives for students in our research-based MS and PhD programs are established through a plan of study for each student that is approved by their supervisory committee. The plan of study varies depending on the student.  MS students need to take at least 15 credits of coursework. PhD students have credit requirements, but not course requirements (except Ecology degree students). MS and PhD students take courses from WILD and other departments leading to the specialized learning required for completion of the students’ research and consistent with a graduate degree in the field. MS and PhD students in Ecology have additional course requirements described here. General credit, course and other degree requirements can be accessed here.

Even though a graduate student’s learning objectives are determined by their advisor and committee. we have some general objectives for all of our MS and PhD students. As a result of successfully completing the requirements toward the PhD degree, students shall: 

  • Demonstrate mastery of subject material.
  • Produce, present, and defend an original significant contribution to knowledge.
  • Be able to conduct scholarly activities in an ethical manner.

As a result of successfully completing the requirements toward the MS degree, students shall: 

  • Demonstrate mastery of subject material.
  • Conduct, present, and defend a body of research conducted during their program.
  • Be able to conduct scholarly activities in an ethical manner.

Outcomes Data

Mastery of subject material by individual students in the MS and PhD programs is assessed by their supervisory committee following standard procedures required by the graduate school and department. The outcomes data evaluated by the supervisory committees includes plans of study, research proposals, research proposal seminars, qualifying exams, and theses and dissertations.

In addition, the department employs a variety of tools to collect feedback on the overall performance of its graduate programs, including, but not limited to:

  • # of applicants to each degree
  • # students in each degree
  • # of minorities in each degree
  • Average GRE scores and GPA of entering students
  • Average time to degree completion
  • % students completing degrees in targeted time frames:
    • 3 years for MS
    • 5 years for PhD
  • # of publications produced by graduate students
  • Average stipend for MS and PhD assistantships
  • Graduate placement and professional advancement/achievements

A survey to determine publishing experience for all of our graduate students was conducted in 2012 and the results are available here.

In 2014 and again in 2016 we assessed our progress on our 5-Year Graduate Program Plan (mentioned above). Data gathered at that time and a description of the results of the assessment can be viewed here.

Data-Based Decisions

As mentioned earlier, the learning objectives for students in our MS and PhD programs are established through a plan of study for each student that is approved by their supervisory committee, so we cannot readily describe the decisions those committees and the students make and what data they base their decisions on. We do periodically gather data as mentioned above and we modify aspects of our programs based on those data. These changes are focused on the program though rather than on individual students. Periodic reports are developed by our graduate program coordinator, department head, and department and will be posted here for our 2014 and 2016 report.