Undergraduate Program Assessment


Mission Statement

The Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry plays a central role at Utah State University. The principles of chemistry lie at the heart of the properties and behavior of molecules, and how they react with one another. And it is molecular science which underlies not only the chemical sciences, including nanotechnology, but also the biological sciences, such as genomics, evolution, and even behavior, and the medical sciences. Members of the Department share a commitment to uncover and elucidate the priciples underlying molecular behavior, and to probe their relation to other lines of inquiry. Equally important, members of this Department share a commitment to the sharing of their knowledge with students at all levels, and imparting to both graduate and undergraduate students a sense of wonder about the molecular world around them.

Assessment Plan

The Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry is committed to the concept of assessment. Assessment involves not merely the assessment of how well students have accumulated knowledge, but also whether students are progressing towards the goal of being able to "think like a scientist," and, in particular, of thinking like a chemist or biochemist. In addition, assessment involves assessing ourselves: how well are we succeding at meeting the learning objectives upon which we have built our program in chemistry and biochemistry? Assessment of our program and the accumulation of this data allows us to identify areas where change is needed.

The general goal of the Department is that students learn how to think like a scientist; that is, to understand the scientific method in the context of chemistry and biochemistry. Briefly, our goal in assessment is to measure how well students who emerge from our program perform in areas that go beyond simply "knowing the facts." For example, have our students developed the ability to think objectively and critically? Thinking like a scientist involves a host of abilities including the following:

  • Knowledge and Skills : The accumulation of facts and methodologies including the ability to perform experiments in the laboratory.
  • Comprehension : How well can students translate their knowledge into their own words?
  • Application : How well can students apply their knowledge and understanding to new situations?
  • Analysis : How well can students compare different or competing theories and exercise critical thinking?
  • Synthesis : How well can students combine different concepts from different areas of science?
  • Evaluation : Are students able to judge for themselves the validity of material that they encounter? Are they able to make critical assessments of articles in the scientific literature? Can students read a paper in chemistry or biochemistry and summarize its main points in their own words? Can students identify weaknesses in published work? Can students design experiments or simulations to test the validity of an idea or hypothesis?
  • Ethics : Have students developed a strong sense of professional and research integrity?

Course level assessment

Each course syllabus contains a set of key learning objectives for the course. In laboratory courses these objectives may include laboratory skills. All syllabi are posted online.

In several core courses "gain-score" tests are administered at the start and the end of the semester (or course sequence). These tests consist of questions designed not only to determine how well students have understood the information in the course but also their ability to apply, analyze and sythesize that information. Examples of the types of questions used in general chemistry are; "Does the second law of thermodynamics preclude evolution?"; Is the ozone hole real?"; "How would you deal with a spill of concentrated acid?" etc. That is, the questions are not designed to test a student's specific knowledge but rather their ability to apply their knowledge. Examples of gain-score tests and a comparison of results at the start and end of the course are available online.

Comparison of student knowledge to national level is achieved in certain core courses through the use of ACS standard examinations as the actual final examinations in these courses. Performance on these examinations is monitored on a question by question basis so as to identify areas where improvement is needed. Outcomes Data are compiled here, broken down by course and compared with our stated learning objectives . Because these tests are multiple choice they are not necessarily used in every core course every year. Also, they may be supplemented, e.g., by non-multiple choice midterms or assignments. Our specific mechanism is as follows:

Either in-house or ACS standard examinations will be used as final exams in 1210, 1220 and in core divisional courses (analytical, inorganic, physical, inorganic, biochemistry).

  • The divisions and general chemistry have each adopted slightly different approaches.
  • For in-house exams, "embedded" questions will be used to test specific learning objectives from the learning objectives matrix (LOM, attached).
  • The results will be analyzed by the faculty teaching these courses to identify areas of weakness and also to understand how these courses contribute to the specific learning objectives in the LOM.
  • Each year a one-page summary will be submitted by each division (and the general chemistry steering committee) to the Assessment and Curriculum Committee (ACC).
  • The data will be collected, collated and made available on the web. This data will be used to make decisions regarding our program. This will be done by the secretaries.
  • Faculty are encouraged to use gain-score tests in courses and to post these tests and the results to the assessment website. Questions should focus on more general "behavioural" aspects (perceptions of the role and methods of science, ability to think critically, etc ) rather than simply testing a student's knowledge.

Division level assessment

Each of the five divisions in the department and also the general chemistry steering committee has identified a set of learning objectives which go beyond testing whether students simply know a set of facts or have achieved a skill such as being able to run an nmr. These objectives are included in course syllabi. The Department has also identified a "higher-level" set of learning objectives which are summarized in the following matrix which shows how courses in the Department relate to these broader goals.


In addition the Department uses the following tools to assess our program.

  • A two credit capstone seminar course.
  • Students will make a formal library visit and attend a session given by career services during the first two weeks.
  • The students will be assigned (based on their mutual interests) a faculty mentor for that semester and will attend the divisional seminar in that faculty member's research area.
  • The student will present a talk in the divisional seminar either based on either original or literature research. The mentor will guide the student in developing this talk.
  • Faculty and students will make brief written comments on the speaker's performance in various areas.
  • At the end of the semester the student will present a more general poster (designed for a broader audience) in an informal department-wide poster session (perhaps with pizza). This will be based on their talk.
  • Members of the curriculum committee (and other faculty) will talk with students about their posters and their USU experience in general. This will double as an informal exit interview. These comments will be collected and collated by the ACC.
  • The assessment and curriculum committee will meet and assign pass/fail grades based on the accumulation of comments.
  • The Department will attempt to determine why students leave the program by arranging interviews with advisors.
  • The Department will track the progress of graduating students.


The Department maintains certification with the American Chemical Society as described below.
The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry offers several options for undergraduate degrees. The following degrees are certified by the American Chemical Society:

  • Bachelor of Science, Professional Chemistry Emphasis
  • Bachelor of Science, Biochemistry Emphasis
  • Bachelor of Science, Chemistry Education Emphasis

The College of Science, of which the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry is a part, conducts a survey of graduating seniors each year.