The Department of Physics and Astronomy has research efforts in four major areas with synergistic overlaps: Space and Plasma Physics, Astronomy and Astrophysics, Condensed Matter and Optics, and Nuclear and Particle Physics. The research effort is supported by substantial federal funding averaging $15.3M/year. We offer BA and BS degrees in Physics and Astronomy, a BS in Applied Physics, a PhD in Physics with tracks in Physics and Astronomy. The graduate program relies on our robust research program and research experiences enhance the undergraduate program. We teach approximately 2,000 students each Fall and each Spring in our courses for majors and non-majors. The Department currently consists of 28 tenure-track faculty and 1 lecturer. In addition, the Department has full-time staff: 3 instructional support, 7 administrative, 6 research support, and 20 research staff. The strategic plan informs our actions as all members of the department strive for excellence in teaching to prepare our students to contribute to advances in science and technology and for excellence in research to enhance our internationally renowned programs at the vanguard of research and discovery.

Mission
The Department of Physics and Astronomy provides academic programs, through formal coursework and research opportunities, that prepare students to contribute to advances in science and technology.  Our research contributes to frontier discoveries and advances through publications, instrument and device development, patents, and other products of research activity.  Faculty and staff serve the community and State of Iowa through outreach and educational activities.

Vision
The Department is dedicated to undergraduate and graduate student education that develops students’ analytical, computational, and experimental skills as well as to develop professional skills applicable to a range of workplace environments. We value continual improvement and innovation in teaching to enhance the scientific knowledge of the undergraduate population as well as throughout the broader community. Our faculty, staff, and students work at the vanguard of research and discovery. We support a robust infrastructure to keep our research endeavors at the cutting edge of discovery. We value a positive and supportive workplace, in which we work to create a culture of respect and inclusivity.

Strategic Plan

Goal

Lead research and discovery with an enhanced national and international reputation.

Strategy 1

Enhance our capability to lead and collaborate on major research projects and support creativity in research.

Critical Task: Hire new faculty and research staff in strategic research areas.
Critical Task: Maintain and enhance critical engineering staff.
Critical Task: Maintain and advance faculty laboratories, department machine and electrical assembly shops and department research facilities such as the MBE facility.
Critical Task: Provide robust support for IT needs of our research effort.
Critical Task: Enhance support for proposal preparation including pre-proposal work and administrative support for proposals, grants and contracts.
Critical Task: Maintain a high level of participation in research by our graduate and undergraduate students.

Strategy 2

Build and enhance destination programs in space science and in quantum information science.

Critical Task: Dedicate resources, including some faculty hires, to this area while also maintaining critical faculty and infrastructure support for other research areas in the department.
Critical Task: Seek additional financial support for initiatives via university and federal funding initiatives.

Strategy 3

Increase connections of our research across the University, State, Region and Nation.

Critical Task: Increase collaborations with researchers in other departments and colleges within the University.
Critical Task: Encourage the use by other departments in the University of our engineering and administrative staff to support collaborative research projects.
Critical Task: Broaden the use of departmental research infrastructure, including machine and electrical assembly shops and the MBE facility, by researchers outside of the department.

Performance indicators

Proposal submission and external funding, publication and citation rates and other evidence of national and international visibility, success in hiring in strategic research areas, increased use of departmental research infrastructure and personnel both within the department and by researchers outside of the department.
 

Goal A

Enhance student engagement in the classroom and in research.

Strategy 1

Update the curriculum and facilities for laboratory courses.

Critical Task: Revise introductory laboratory courses, to prepare physics and astronomy majors for upper level laboratory courses.
Critical Task: Explore ways to incorporate inquiry-guided experiments in activities, with enhanced TA training to facilitate student groups.
Critical Task: Redesign curriculum of intermediate and advanced lab courses.
Critical Task: Assess infrastructure needs for redesigned curriculum.

Strategy 2

Improve and enhance students’ ability to analyze and visualize data and physical models.

Critical Task: Improved data visualization component in laboratory courses.
Critical Task: Assess and improve the undergraduate programming course.
Critical Task: Assess students’ ability to interpret data and develop components to courses, where appropriate, to strengthen student skills in this area.

Strategy 3

Sustain and enhance the research experience for undergraduate majors.

Critical Task: Develop a means to track undergraduate involvement in research.
Critical Task: Increase the percentage of undergraduate majors who engage in faculty-supervised research.
Critical Task: Provide opportunities for students to learn skills for presenting their research in writing and in oral presentations.
Critical Task: Enhance visibility of student research activities.

Goal B

Increase the number of undergraduate physics and astronomy majors with a diverse group of students with a variety of career goals.

Strategy

Improve advising for our undergraduate majors and undecided majors.

Critical Task: Understand better our student outcomes.
Critical Task: Coordinate more consistently with academic advisors inside and outside of the department.
Critical Task: Develop better recruitment strategies for students already at the UI and for high school students.

Performance indicators

Evidence of improved student lab and computer skills; increase in the number of students doing research and participation in research events; improved student tracking; feedback from students through student groups (SPS) and exit interviews; increase in the number of undergraduate majors.
 

Goal A

Improve course consistency and relevance for the curricular needs of enrolled students.

Strategy 1

Improve coordination across courses and devote more resources to these efforts.

Critical Task: Offer a more consistent experience for undergraduates in discussion sections and laboratories for introductory courses.
Critical Task: Support more TILE-lite classrooms with easy access to lecture-demonstration equipment.
Critical Task: Enhance and expand our Physics Help Center, including more formal communication between faculty instructors and TAs, and TA training.
Critical Task: Evaluate ways to encourage more students to seek support from the Physics Help Center and with other study resources on campus, e.g., supplemental instruction.

Strategy 2

Develop a better understanding of the role of our courses in the curricula of other majors.

Critical Task: Develop a consistent line of communication with relevant departments and programs.
Critical Task: Maintain active communication with Academic Advising/CLAS Professional Advising.

Goal B

Improve student learning in introductory labs.

Strategy

Redesign teaching methodology of introductory laboratory experiments.

Critical Task: Pilot individual redesigned laboratory experiments.
Critical Task: Explore ways to incorporate inquiry-guided experiments in activities, with enhanced TA training to facilitate student groups.

Performance indicators

Regularly scheduled meetings of instructors and shared teaching resources; course assessments of Help Center usage; regularly scheduled meetings of academic advising, professional advising and relevant departments; regular TA training on leading inquiry-guided activities; reduction of DFW rates in courses for non-majors; student feedback.

Goal

Foster student success through academic and professional development. 

Strategy 1

Improve professional development of graduate students in physics and astronomy.

Critical Task: Update and introduce new advanced/graduate courses to meet changes in science and technology. 
Critical Task: Develop and institute a procedure for annual reviews of graduate student progress and performance.
Critical Task: Create a 1 sh careers course to assist students with navigating through the myriad of career choices.

Strategy 2

Create an inclusive and collaborative approach to graduate education.
Critical Task: Increase graduate student participation in departmental decision-making.
Critical Task: Increase collaborative opportunities for students in new research areas.

Performance indicators

Reduced time-to-degree; earlier student identification of research advisors; student feedback through student committees (GSAC) and exit interviews.

Goal

Enhance and expand community engagement activities.

Strategy

Work to reach a broader geographical community and a more diverse community both inside and outside of the University.

Critical Task: Continue to support STEM community engagement and outreach activities through funding and equipment, with an articulated connection to the development of professional skills by student presenters, when appropriate.
Critical Task: Enhance material that describes departmental research activities and how our academic program can enhance the experience of students who major in other departments.

Performance indicators

Maintain annual contact numbers; student feedback through student committees and exit interviews.

Goal A

Develop a more inclusive culture in the department for faculty, staff, and students.

Strategy 1

Build camaraderie and collaboration among our students.

Critical Task: Identify and use opportunities to promote collaboration and camaraderie among graduate students, making sure to include women, American ethnic minorities and international students.

Strategy 2

Plan for on-going departmental conversations on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Critical Task: Work with faculty instructors and graduate student TAs who are primarily assigned to large-enrollment introductory courses on DEI best practices in teaching.
Critical Task: Plan regular, formal opportunities for discussions of DEI among faculty, students and staff.
Critical Task: Develop better advising and mentoring practices and apply them consistently.
Critical Task: Examine student data (e.g., DFW rates, time to degree, graduation rates) and faculty/staff surveys (e.g., Working at Iowa) for our department to understand, and if necessary, remediate inequities. 

Strategy 3

Expand our communication and consultation in department.

Critical Task: Identify opportunities where students and staff can regularly provide input to faculty decision-making. 

Goal B

Address challenges to ADA compliance for our work and educational environment.

Strategy

Work with relevant groups for ADA compliance in our work and educational environment.

Critical Task: Catalog classroom & research areas and curricula that are challenges to ADA compliance, and work to eliminate those challenges.

Goal C

Increase the diversity of our students, faculty and staff.

Strategy 1

Enhance practices that promote diverse applicant pools for new faculty and research staff searches.

Critical Task: Document successes and challenges in recruiting a diverse applicant pool after each search, and share with the search committee for future searches.
Critical Task: Ensure that each member of a search committee has implicit bias training. 

Strategy 2

Develop better student recruitment strategies to attract a more diverse student body.

Critical Task: Improve the department’s material used for Hawkeye Visit Days and at regional high schools to attract a more diverse group of students to the department.
Critical Task: To reach new students, identify and communicate where flexibility exists in our curriculum, so that students understand entry points to the major after the fall semester of their first year.

Performance indicators

Regularly scheduled DEI training and discussions for students, faculty and staff members; a more diverse department membership; assessment and tracking that shows that climate issues are being addressed and improved; meet ADA accessibility goals; feedback through student committees and exit interviews.

Background, Summary, and Conclusion

Background and Planning Overview
The Department concurrently underwent a strategic planning exercise and departmental self-study in AY19-20 in preparation for an external review. These two exercises were led by an ad hoc committee comprised of three faculty members, one research scientist and the departmental administrator. A SWOT analysis was performed through a series of meetings of faculty, research staff, and support staff, to develop a foundation for the strategic plan. The strategic plan was developed and discussed during the spring semester in faculty meetings and in departmental committees.

Summary of Strategic Directions
Our strategies in research aim to enhance our national and international reputation. We work to support departmental research while building and enhancing destination programs in space science and quantum information science. In our undergraduate teaching mission, we identified opportunities for improvements to the laboratory experience, and for majors, computational skills and greater participation in research opportunities. Improved professional development for graduate students is a focus. We aim to develop a more inclusive culture in the department and increase the diversity of faculty, staff, and students.

Conclusion
Our strategic planning exercise identified areas of great strength and also some areas of weakness within the Department. We have developed goals that declare our areas of excellence and are linked with CLAS strategic objectives, strategies that we will implement as we strive towards those goals, and performance indicators that will enable us to measure our progress.  These goals, strategics, and metrics, as described above, provide a concrete plan to enhance our national and international reputation in research, to provide the best possible instruction that will prepare our students to contribute to society via their expertise in science and technology, to disseminate our knowledge of and excitement for science thereby engaging a diverse community both inside and outside of the University, and to develop an inclusive culture within the department.