Molecular Biology and Chemistry Department Class Availability

Memo
To: Dr. Lisa Webb, Department Chair
lwebb@cnu.edu
From: Casey O’Neil
casey.oneil.14@cnu.edu
Subject: Proposal for the Increase in Class Sizes in the MBCH Dept.
Date: May 27, 2016

Purpose:

The goal of this proposal is to bring to light the lack of available space in crucial classes within the Molecular Biology and Chemistry Department.

Summary:

In efforts to attract new students, Christopher Newport University boasts heavily of its small class sizes. Admittedly, this is one of the factors that convinced me to come to CNU because I thought that I would get more individual attention from professors. In a perfect world, small class sizes would lead to more individual attention, which in turn would provide a better education for students. What is the quality of the education, however, when the students cannot even get into the classes?

During registration for the Fall 2016 semester, I noticed that there had been uproar about the lack of space in classes needed by biology, chemistry, and biochemistry majors within the Molecular Biology and Chemistry classes. After the first day of registration, every single biology class that was offered was completely full, leaving two thirds of the rising junior biology and biochemistry majors without any options for the upcoming semester. At this point in time, students applied for overrides into the needed classes and many still have not heard back. This is an issue not only because it causes an unnecessary amount of stress on students, but also because it may prevent students from graduating on time unless they take supplementary classes outside of the university. This qualitative study looks at the responses to a survey about the issue, as well as an interview from a victim of the system.

I admire CNU’s commitment to keeping class sizes small, but something needs to be done to address this issue. Whether that means hiring more professors or expanding class sizes, a change must be made to keep up with the increasing demand for these classes as the University grows. Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

 

Abstract

“Proposal for the Expansion of Class Sizes in the MBCH Department”

Prepared By: Casey O’Neil

As a small liberal arts school in eastern Virginia, Christopher Newport University is rapidly expanding, both through constant construction, and ever increasing incoming freshman classes. One thing that is not growing, however, is individual class sizes. CNU promises small class sizes, but this causes strain on the student body when there are not enough seats in major mandatory classes. This causes stress on students through uncertainty, and requiring them to take classes outside of the university in order to graduate on time. To investigate this issue, a combination of phenomenological and narrative approaches was used. A survey of students within the Molecular Biology and Chemistry department was conducted, along with an interview of a victim of the system. Overwhelmingly, the student respondents appear to agree that there is a flaw in the system that makes it difficult to get into the classes that they and their peers need. Some possible solutions to this problem include expanding class sizes or hiring more professors in order to keep up with the volume of students who must take these courses.

 Keywords: class, size, hiring, expansion, biology, chemistry, biochemistry

  

Introduction

Upon hearing the words “class registration” most students at Christopher Newport University turn red and begin to rage against the system. Many factors compile to produce this seething anger in students, but the one that seems to affect those majored in the Molecular Biology and Chemistry (MBCH) Department is the lack of class availability in upper level classes. Biology is one of the most popular majors at CNU, and the actual program and classes are well planned and prepare students for furthering their education. The problem is insidious and grows worse every year.

Christopher Newport University is like a child going through a growth spurt. Every year President Paul Trible sends out an e-mail informing the student body that the most recent incoming freshman class has the highest cumulative high school GPA, and is larger than the class that came before it. This is a problem because while buildings like the brand new Christopher Newport Hall are being built, other parts of the university such as housing and teaching staff are not being proportionally expanded. All it takes is a stroll through the freshman dorm, Santoro Hall, and seeing how nearly every room is tripled to see this.

During registration for the Fall 2016 semester, many MBCH students were unable to stake their claim on upper level biology and biochemistry classes, as most of them were completely full after the first day of registration. Three months later, many overrides are still pending, and many may not get into those classes at all, which may force them to take courses outside of the university.

Something has to be done to accommodate our university’s growth spurt, whether that means increasing class sizes, or hiring more faculty for the MBCH Department.

 

Theory

I chose to conduct a study that is a combination of the phenomenological and narrative approaches. I felt that these two methods were best combined as there is a large pool of students to survey in order to understand this phenomenon. The students taking classes from the Molecular Biology and Chemistry Department often experience a noteworthy amount of trouble when registering for major required classes. This is a shared experience between students in the department. I also thought that because I know many of these students, an interview with one of them would be beneficial in providing additional insight to the issue.

Phenomenological research is characterized by looking into a shared experience and its effects on a group of people. The experience that was studied in this case was registration for classes within the Molecular Biology and Chemistry Department. The narrative portion of this study evolved due to the focus on how this phenomenon affected an individual in addition to its effects on a group of people. The interview functions to narrow the scope from a broad set of beliefs exhibited with the phenomenological data in order to show the issue from the inside out.

 

Research Methods 

This qualitative research study used two different methods to collect data about the issue in question. In order to reach a larger portion of the affected student body, a survey was created and distributed to students within the Molecular Biology and Chemistry Department. 8 students in varying portions of their academic careers at Christopher Newport University responded, giving both quantitative answers, and several qualitative responses. The qualitative responses talked about the individual experiences of the students with registration and through the override process, and also discussed possible solutions to the problem at hand. The survey was created through Survey Monkey and was distributed to student’s school e-mail addresses. It is included in its entirety in the appendix.

In addition to the survey, an interview of Tamera Toney was conducted. She was a victim of the system during the registration for Fall 2016 classes this past semester. Toney is double majored in Neuroscience and Biochemistry, with a minor in Biology, so many of her major dependent courses overlap and are provided through the Molecular Biology and Chemistry Department. Devastatingly, Toney was only able to register for three of the seven classes that she had planned on taking during the fall semester of 2016. The next course of action for her to take was to apply for overrides. The override system works by compiling a list of students that need a certain course that has already reached the size cap. If there are only a few students who need overrides, they will probably be added to a class. Normally, if there are a lot of students that need the course, a new section of the course will open up. However, at this point in time, Toney has only heard back about one of the four overrides that she applied for. The interview was conducted via e-mail and is included in its entirety in the appendix.

 

Results and Discussion

Survey 

The survey consisted of eight questions. Two were purely demographic questions, three were quantitative, and two were qualitative to allow respondents to describe their individual experiences. The general consensus between respondents was that there are issues within the Molecular Biology and Chemistry Department that make it difficult for students to get the classes that they need when they need them.

75% of the respondents were in their third year at CNU, and 25% had recently graduated in May. Of the classes offered by the MBCH department, the majority of respondents have taken Organic Chemistry I and II, and are moving on to take upper level biology and biochemistry classes.

figure1csoFigure 1.

Figure 1 shows the response when students were asked if they have ever experienced difficulty registering for classes within the MBCH Department. 75% said that they had experienced difficulty. This number is definitely an indicator that there is something wrong with the system.

figure2csoFigure 2.

Figure 2 shows responses to the question of how many overrides each individual has had to apply for during their career at CNU. 63% reported having to apply for between 2 and 6 overrides.

The first free response question that the survey provided was question 5. Question #5 of the survey read as follows: “If you have experienced difficulty getting into classes offered by the MBCH Department that you need to meet major requirements, please describe your experience below.”

Some noteworthy responses to this question included the following:

“It was god awful, the put maintaining a small class size so they can say that to prospective students ahead of meeting their current student’s needs.”

“I have been unable to obtain 9 credit hours required for my major for this past semester”

“I’ve had to sacrifice classes for my other major (which might set me back for graduating on time) in order to get into a lab.”

The language that respondents used was very telling. Words and phrases such as “god awful”, “sacrifice”, “set back”, and “unable” imply negative feelings towards the system. Not only that, but the responses offered imply that the current system is holding students back. One respondent stated that they may not graduate on time due to the current system, and another stated that they were unable to take 9 credit hours worth of classes for their major through the MBCH Department. Considering that the recommended course load is 15 credit hours a semester, this person was unable to fulfill more than half of the needed credits for that semester.

figure3csoFigure 3.

figure4csoFigure 4.

Figures 3 and 4 are similar in that the questions asked to produce the results in the graphic are closely related. They are also similar in that 100% of respondents answered them in the same way. Figure 3 depicts the results of Question #6, which asked if t students had difficulty getting into classes provided by the MBCH Department. Every student responding to the survey replied the affirmative. Figure 4 shows the results of Question #7 depicted graphically. Question #7 built upon Question #6 and asked respondents if they believed that difficulty getting these classes would hinder their ability to graduate on time, and again 100% said that it would.

Question #8 asked students to offer possible solutions to the issue at hand. Some noteworthy responses include:

“Make more classes.”

“Hiring more professors, expand class sizes. Even though they might no longer fit into the “CNU has small class sizes” claim, at least students will be able to get the classes they need”

“Hire more professors, varying times the classes are offered.”

“Hiring more teachers, or expanding the classes”

“1. Expand the MBCH staff. Yes, it would cost CNU money to pay these people, but the school has a vast abundance of students who are pursuing biology and/or chemistry, many of whom are pre-med! 2. Add more sections for each upper level MBCH class.

“HIRE MY FACULTY. INCREASE CLASS SIZES”

At a glance, it is apparent that the most common ideas being expressed are to hire more staff, increase class sizes, and add more sections of the classes in question. Upon inputting the responses into voyant-tools.org, the frequencies of the words can be analyzed. The most frequent words used are classes, size, and expand. After that comes hire and hiring.

 

Interview

The entirety of the interview can be found below in the appendix. It was conducted via e-mail on May 19th, 2016.

Stories like Toney’s are not uncommon at CNU around registration time. I distinctly remember sitting in lab during spring semester, overhearing chatter about class times and available seats. Thankfully I am in the Honors Program and have an extra semester’s worth of credits under my belt thanks to transfer credits, which gives me an advantage during registration season. Most people are not that lucky. I heard many of my peers complaining that even though only one day had passed since registration for our class opened up, there were no seats left in any of the upper level biology or biochemistry classes. This was a big deal for the people surrounding me as nearly all of them are majored within the MBCH Department, meaning that they were going to have to go through the override process, and potentially not get the classes they needed.

The issue stayed on my mind as I made my way home that night, and it has remained close to me since then. Two of my roommates were affected by the lack of available seats as well, one more than the other. Tamera Toney, rising junior and Biochemistry/Neuroscience double major was hit very hard by this unfortunate scenario. Two days before her registration time, nearly all of the classes that she had planned on taking for the upcoming semester were completely or almost completely full, and two thirds of our class’s biology and biochemistry majors had not yet registered. I sat there with her for the next two days, scheduling and rescheduling, trying to make classes for the next four semesters fit in a way that would allow her to graduate on time without having to resort to taking too many courses outside of the university. It did not seem to be possible.

Registration finally rolled around for Toney after two stressful days of waiting. She ended up getting into three of the seven classes that she needed for the following semester. As a double major who is still intending to minor, classes need to be lined up almost perfectly in order to fit everything in, so she applied for four overrides.

When describing the override process, Toney made it sounds very impersonal, nearly like Ford’s assembly line. There is nearly always a line out the door of the Department Head’s office, and students are quickly ushered in, their information is taken, and they are ushered out. No promises are made, and often people complain about feeling rushed and like an inconvenience. Even after going through this process and an indeterminate waiting period, there is never a guarantee for placement.

Devastatingly, the lack of available seats has forced Toney to resort to taking classes elsewhere for credit, in order to fit MBCH classes in wherever she can during the school year. She is currently enrolled in two online classes over the summer. If a student has no choice but to take classes elsewhere, or has to pay for an extra semester, then there is a flaw in the system. One of the main jobs of the university is to ensure that students graduate within four years as long as they meet all of the necessary requirements. The MBCH registration system makes it impossible, which puts unnecessary stress on already strung out college students.

When asked how the situation made her feel, Toney used language that expressed a great deal of stress, and I can attest to that as I lived with her during the beginnings of the problem, and keep in contact with her now. She used words and phrases such as “stressful”, “anxiety”, “unreasonable”, and “unnecessary emotional problems.” Finally, she warns that something needs to be done about the system, whether it means expanding class sizes or hiring more staff. She says that this is absolutely necessary because the school is also expanding.

 

Conclusion

Something has to be done to ensure that the current student population’s needs are being met. Because the school is quickly growing, as is evident because of the constant construction and increasing freshman class sizes, classes also need to grow. One of the biggest attractions that CNU has to offer is that is has small class sizes, but how much does a small class size benefit someone when they cannot even get into the class? If Christopher Newport University is to stay committed to keeping class sizes small, then another factor must change. More staff must be hired to keep up with the demand for MBCH Department classes.

 

References

Sinclair, Stéfan and Geoffrey Rockwell. “Trends.” Voyant Tools. 2016. Web. 25 May 2016. <http://voyant-tools.org&gt;.

“Molecular Biology and Chemistry Class Availability.” SurveyMonkey. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2016.

 

 Appendix 

 Survey Questions

1. What is your anticipated year of graduation?

2. Which upper level classes from the Molecular Biology and Chemistry (MBCH)         department have you taken?

3. Have you ever experienced difficulty when registering for classes in the MBCH department?

4. How many overrides have you applied to the MBCH department for during your career at CNU?

5. If you have experienced difficulty getting into classes offered by the MBCH department that are needed to meet major requirements, please describe your experiences below.

6. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: Students have difficulty getting into classes offered by the MBCH department.

7. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: Difficulty getting into classes offered by the MBCH department would make it hard to meet major requirements on time.

8. What is a possible solution for this problem?

 

Interview of Tamera Toney

Q. Would you prefer to remain anonymous?
A. No.

Q. How long have you been a student at Christopher Newport University? What is your field of study?
A. I’ve been a student at CNU for two years, going on three in the fall. I’m studying biochemistry and neuroscience.

Q. Did you experience difficulty getting into the classes you needed as a freshman at CNU? Could you explain what happened?
A. As a freshman I did not have many issues registering and obtaining the classes I needed. Primarily because they were low-level classes and there wasn’t much competition for them.

Q. Did you experience difficulty getting into the classes you needed as a sophomore at CNU? Could you explain what happened?
A. Sophomore year did lend a little problem with getting all the classes I need but not nearly as bad as when registering for classes for my junior year. For my sophomore year I just needed to be overridden into calculus (MATH 140).

Q. Can you describe your experience with applying for overrides? Was the process quick and efficient? Describe your personal interactions with the MBCH Department while applying for overrides.
A. My experience with overrides is never a smooth process. It usually involves long lines, waiting and a series of questions that don’t mean you’re guaranteed to get in the class you need. This is especially true within the science department, due to the lack of classes and the abundance of science majors that need the same classes to graduate. The MBCH department is rather breezy when it comes to overrides; they want to get you in and out as soon as possible. They just take down your email, the classes you need and then usher you out by quickly stating to check your email periodically. And that’s the end of that. No if’s, and’s or buts about the entire process.

Q. Has not being able to get into a class required you to take classes outside of CNU? How else has it inconvenienced you?
A. Not getting into the classes I need for my major has indeed required me to take classes outside of CNU to make sure that I can still graduate on time, especially being a double major and still attempting to minor. I also have to take about 17-18 credits a semester to also guarantee I can graduate on time with the rest of my class.

Q. How did the situation as a whole make you feel? Do you have any proposed changes to the system?
A. This entire situation was extremely stressful and caused quite a bit of anxiety because of the unanswered question of if I’m going to be able get into the class was floating around the entire time. It caused a lot of unnecessary emotional problems that could have potentially been avoided if they hire more staff and increased the class sizes here at CNU. You cannot expect to expand the school, maintain the same amount of professors and still have a small class size. That’s impractical and unreasonable. So there needs to be an increase in the amount of professors hired and qualified to teach the higher-level classes. The class’s sizes also need to be expanded to accommodate all the kids that need those classes to graduate.

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