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Optical Sciences and Engineering: Undergraduate Program


The Bachelor of Science in Optical Sciences and Engineering (BSOSE) degree program has a formal core curriculum with technical elective concentrations called tracks. Each track consists of 18 units in areas of optics, opto-electronics, opto-mechanics, or optical materials.

The College of Optical Sciences’ mission is to provide the State of Arizona and the nation with the internationally preeminent program in education, research, and outreach in all aspects of the science and application of optics, which is the study of light. 

Education objectives of the BSOSE degree program were established based on the mission of The University of Arizona and the Colleges of Engineering and Optical Sciences. Because the OSE program is jointly administered between the College of Engineering and the College of Optical Sciences, faculty and administration from the two colleges collaborated to develop objectives that appropriately reflect objectives of the College of Engineering as applied to Optics. The objectives are:

  1. To provide students with a first-rate education in the basic principles of optics and the mathematics and physics needed to understand the behavior of optical systems.
  2. To provide students with experience in applying optical principles to engineering problems and in developing the laboratory and computer skills needed for a career in optical engineering.
  3. To develop students’ skills in effective communication and responsible teamwork, and to foster professional and ethical attitudes and a sense of social responsibility.
  4. To teach student the design process and provide students with experience doing open-ended design projects.
Expected Learning Outcomes: 

Upon completion of the BSOSE degree, students demonstrate the following skills, knowledge, and behaviors:

  1. Have a good understanding of the basic physics and mathematics underlying optical phenomena and optical systems.
  2. Apply their understanding of physics and mathematics to solve technical and engineering problems, especially those related to optics.
  3. Effectively use optical components, optical and electronic instruments, and computers to perform experiments and do testing in an optics laboratory.
  4. Work effectively in teams to solve engineering and design problems.
  5. Design optical systems and related components as needed in their professional careers.
  6. Effectively communicate with others both orally and in writing.
  7. Understand their professional and ethical responsibilities as engineering or scientific professionals.


Assessment Activities: 

Direct Measurement of Student Outcomes:

  1. Capstone Design Project:  This multidisciplinary, yearlong, senior-level design project allows students to demonstrate their scholarly experiences by incorporating realistic optical sciences and engineering concepts and techniques learned during his or her undergraduate career.
  2. OPTI 340 Oral Exam: As one of the core course requirements, all undergraduate majors are required to successfully complete OPTI 340 and its oral exam.  Exam questions are centered on Optical Systems Design and are used to gauge the material students have acquired in the course.
    1. 2012 Oral Exam Questions
    2. 2013 Oral Exam Questions
    3. 2014 Oral Exam Questions
    4. 2015 Oral Exam Questions
    5. 2016 Oral Exam Questions
  3. Core Course Outcomes Measures: Presently, the instructors of core undergraduate courses are working to align their course objectives to program level outcomes.  One such course that is complete is OPTI 340 (see above).  While the core course assessment grid is not complete (see Table 1 below),  the College of Optical Sciences strives to complete this grid and begin collecting relevant data in the next academic year.

Table 1. Grid showing the core course outcomes as related to the seven learning outcomes of the BSOSE degree program.

Indirect Measurement of Student Outcomes:

  1. Alumni Surveys: With the perspective gained from actually doing optical engineering in their work environment, former students are able to provide excellent evaluations of how well their education has prepared them for industrial settings: multidisciplinary teamwork, communication skills, lifelong learning, ethical responsibilities, and problem and design formulation.
  2. Optics Industry Feedback:   The feedback we receive from the College’s Industrial Affiliates and other industry partners who have hired recent graduates, both formally at the feedback session in our annual Industrial Affiliates Workshops or informally through contacts at meetings and recruiting trips, is particularly valuable in telling us how well we are doing in preparing our students for an engineering career, and providing us with assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of our graduates who have gone to work at their companies.  As can be seen in the evaluation form, industrial partners are asked to directly rate the students based upon the program outcomes.

Other Assessment Measures: While these assessment measures do not align specifically with program level outcomes, these assessment techniques are used by various committees to provide feedback on program effectiveness.

  1. Course/ Teacher/Teaching Assistant (TA) Evaluations: The course evaluations provided by the students at the conclusion of each course provide information about how well the students feel they are learning the material taught. The TA evaluations provide a method by which the TA is reviewed by the professor for their service in the classroom.  While these assessment techniques are not directly related to a particular program outcome, these tools provide feedback on instructor and TA effectiveness and course utility within the program.  The results are tabulated by the Academic Programs and provided to the College’s Executive Committee when they do their annual review of each faculty member. In addition, a copy of the evaluations is returned to each faculty member after they have turned in their course grades at the end of the semester.  Finally, the numeric results are posted on the College website for perusal by any interested individual.  These evaluations are taken very seriously, and poor evaluations have been the basis for the re-assignment of a course to a different faculty member on two separate occasions in recent years.
  2. Faculty Course Assessments: With respect to the assessment at the course-level, it is the faculty, via their day-to-day contact with students, who have the best understanding of how well the learning outcomes are met.  Upon the completion of each semester, the program coordinator receives feedback from each of the instructors whose courses were offered and tabulates a list of recommendations that may be addressed in the College’s Undergraduate Curriculum Committee meetings. 
  3. Senior Exit Survey:  These surveys, conducted by Academic Program Staff, provide good information about how well the students feel we have prepared them for their post-undergraduate careers at the time they have finished their degree and are about to leave The University.  Because they allow the students to give us their overall perspective on the program when they have completed it, they are even more valuable than the individual course evaluations students provide.  The results of the exit interviews are tabulated, and any items that appear to indicate significant problems are communicated to the College’s Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, research advisor, and/or the Associate Dean, as appropriate.
  4. Periodic Student Survey:  This survey is administered to all students on a periodic timeframe and is generally used to generate student response for the Academic Program Review.  It is used to gauge the overall satisfaction with the academic programs, gather input from the students on an anonymous basis and to assess the Academic Programs office.  Both the Associate Dean of Academic Programs and various College faculty committees examine results of this survey.

Table 2.  Grid of the direct and indirect measurement of the seven learning outcomes for the BSOSE programs along with a listing of additional programmatic assessment methods.

Assessment Findings: 

Specific Data that has been generated through use of the assessment activates include:


OPTI 340 Oral Exam:  The scores from the oral exam are used by the course instructor to alter teaching methods in future semesters.  Students should be able to successfully complete the problems given in the oral exam and adequately communicate their responses.


Total Possible Points

Average Score

Spring 2012



Spring 2013 15


Spring 2014



Spring 2015



Spring 2016




Alumni Survey: Results from the alumni survey are compiled, averaged, and compared to running average for areas that need to be addressed.

Optics Industry Feedback: results from the Industrial Affiliate survey and talking points from the feedback session are discussed at minimum with the College’s Undergraduate Curriculum Committee twice per year.  The results are also discussed with specific faculty groups (e.g., Optical Engineering group) and even individual faculty. The results discussed primarily focus on the level of satisfaction industrial partners have with recent graduates, importance of course sequencing related to industry needs, the rating of learning outcomes sufficiently demonstrated by recent graduates, and additional feedback regarding topics that are not covered in the current curriculum.

Course evaluation results: One of the greatest tools that instructors utilize term after term is the feedback they receive from students’ responses on the teacher course evaluations.  These evaluations given at the end of the semester provide students with the opportunity to make recommendations for future improvement of the course.

Faculty Course Assessment:  the results of the faculty course assessment are compiled and shared with the College’s Undergraduate Curriculum committee and the newly formed ABET review committee.  The results from this feedback along with the teacher/course evaluations are used to make course assignment changes, updates to course sequencing, instructor changes, and requirement changes for the undergraduate program:

Senior Exit Surveys:  the results of the senior exit surveys are tabulated and shared with the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee.  A major focus of the committee is to examine any suggestions that recent graduates provide for imporvement of the academic program.  Results from the 2015-2016 graduating students are listed below:

  • Most Valuable Course:
    • ENGR 498- actual engineering design experience
    • OPTI 340- inspired pursuit of graduate studies
    • OPTI 471B- hand-on lab experience
    • OPTI 201 / 202- basic concepts
    • OPTI 424A- required synthesis of material
  • Feedback for Improvement:
    • Include additional mechanics courses
    • Restructure curriculum to require OPTI 340 during the Fall semester
    • A re-evaluation of professors and course content is needed
    • Include teaching Python in the curriculum
    • Iclude a course that introduces optics software (zemax, tracepro, Fred)
    • Course availability
    • Providing a centralized optics method of course insturction would be helpful

Period student survey:  Results from the last periodic student survey are compiled by student leaders in the College of Optical Sciences and distributed to faculty. 

Change in Response to Findings: 

During the last few years, several key changes have been made as a result of various forms of feedback and assessment measures.  The primary group responsible for the coordination and implementation of the undergraduate program is the College’s Undergraduate Curriculum Committee.  The following changes have resulted:

2015-2016 Changes:

  • Introduction of new courses offered to undergraduate students: OPTI 469L- course being offered to both undergraduate and graduate students (i.e. crosslisted as OPTI 569L).  The addition of OPTI 469L directly addressed feedback from students requesting that additional system programming be taught to students, including the use of LabVIEW.
  • The Undergraduate Curriculum Committee voted and accepted a new policy that allows for 3 sophomore level technical electives units to count toward the degree requirements.  This change came as a direct result of student feedback stating that the junior and senior year have several technical elective options, but sophomores do not have options to complete technical electives, although they have time in their schedule to add one.
  • Courses that will be proposed in the next year: entry-level honors course to recruit new students from the honors program into the BSOSE degree, and 200-level photography and videography course to provide a much needed sophomore level technical elective.
  •  The Undergraduate Curriculum Committee addressed the need to include biomedical courses as an option of BSOSE students.  A new track, biomedical track, is being developed and will be proposed to the committee.
  • During the review of the Industrial Affiliate feedback of recent hires, the committee recommended that the survey be changed to a 5-point scale, currently the survey utilizes a 4-point scale.  This change will begin during the Fall 2016 workshop.
  • A significant change that came about as a result of assessment (student course evaluation and student feedback) is the offering of separate co-convened core courses.  Currently, OPTI 406/506 is co-convened (offered at the same time under the same professor with graduate level courses requiring additional requirements for course completion).  Since OPTI 406 is a core course, it is recommended that these courses not be offered together.  A plan has been put into place to separate OPTI 406/506 for the Fall 2017 semester, followed by OPTI 415/515, OPTI 421/521 and OPTI 430/530.

2014 - 2015 Changes:

  • Introduction of new courses offered to undergraduate students: OPTI 428, 484 are both new courses being offered to both undergraduate and graduate students (i.e. crosslisted as OPTI 528 and OPTI 584, respectively).  The addition of OPTI 428 directly addressed feedback from students that there is a lack of technical electives in the field of astronomy.
  • Undergraduate Advisor will work with Physics faculty to recommend a set of technical elective courses that will prepare students who wish to apply to graduate school.
  • OPTI 201 and OPTI 202 changes proposed by the ad hoc committee in 2013-2014 were implemented and re-assessed by the committee for further improvement.  Faculty members will be working together to better integrate material for the introductory level courses.
  • The Undergraduate Curriculum Committee requested the Graduate Curriculum Committee re-evaluate the request the Accelerated Master's Program proposal.
  • Issues with Math 322 content.  Students are required to complete Math 322 but are not well-versed in Fourier Transform and Linear Algebra.  Instructor of OPTI 310 will be meeting with Math department to discuss variation among topics taught in Math 322.

2013 - 2014 Changes:

  • Introduction of new courses offered to undergraduate students:  OPTI 403A, 439A, and 468 are all new courses being offered to both undergraduate and graduate students (i.e., crosslisted as OPTI 503A, 539A, and 568, respectively).  This change directly addresses the feedback that several students desire more experience with graduate level preparation, as they seek to further their education by going to graduate school upon receiving their BSOSE degree.
  • Formulation of the ABET Review Committee: a newly formed ad hoc committee has been tasked with addressing the assessment of the undergraduate program as a whole.  This committee will be meeting monthly, during the academic year, to assist the College of Optical Sciences with aligning its program outcomes to individual course objectives, collecting appropriate assessment material, and preparing for upcoming ABET accreditation reviews.  The next ABET review is scheduled for 2016.
  • As a direct result of student feedback, there have been faculty changes to at least one undergraduate course (OPTI 406), and the emphasis of this course was reviewed by the College’s Undergraduate Curriculum Committee to incorporate more of an engineering emphasis.  This change is to take place in the Fall 2014 semester.  This result addresses another Exit Survey finding.
  • The sequencing of OPTI 201 and OPTI 202 is currently being addressed by an additional ad hoc committee comprised of faculty, staff, and students to determine the best method to introduce the fundamental concepts needed for future success and engage students to keep them excited about the field of optics.  This committee has just provided their input to the College’s Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, which is currently reviewing the findings to make updates prior to the upcoming Fall 2014 semester.  A major suggestion from this committee is to integrate the course curricula together in order to make them flow seamlessly while also ensuring the collocated laboratories follow in step with the classroom instruction.
  • Finally, the newly formed College’s Faculty Academic Steering Committee has taken on the task of addressing the entire undergraduate experience, especially at the sophomore level.  This committee, being formulated as of July 2014, will be addressing several topics in the upcoming academic year.
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Updated date: Mon, 09/26/2016 - 16:30