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Plant Sciences: Undergraduate Programs


Plant Sciences Undergraduate Major

The Plant Sciences major offers an exceptional opportunity for the education and training of undergraduate students. Our curriculum provides a solid background in fundamental biological sciences in combination with training in basic and applied plant science. The curriculum also offers students the freedom to customize their education with diverse and interdisciplinary electives that prepare them for post-graduate studies in research, medicine, and pharmacy, or careers in horticulture, agricultural production, microbiology, or biotechnology.

A minor in Plant Sciences gives students a thorough introduction to plant biology and is compatible with many majors, including Microbiology, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Molecular and Cellular Biology, and Soil, Water, and Environmental Science.

Because the School of Plant Sciences maintains a low undergraduate student to faculty ratio, we are able to offer mentoring by individual faculty members who provide advice on course work, research training, and career opportunities. The School of Plant Sciences includes faculty members with active research programs in the areas of plant genetics, genomics, developmental and cell biology, crop physiology and management, plant pathology, mycology, virology, and plant-environment interactions including plant-microbe interactions and plant responses to environmental stresses. Our Extension faculty are also directly involved in local and regional agricultural industries. We encourage research training as an integral part of our undergraduate education and most majors take advantage of our outstanding research and training opportunities.

Sustainable Plant Systems Major

The Department of Soil, Water, and Environmental Science (SWES) and the School of Plant Sciences combined expertise and jointly created the Sustainable Plant Systems major as an interdisciplinary field of study for undergraduate students interested in a career in modern agriculture and crop production. The degree offers a solid foundation in basic sciences and requires coursework from the plant sciences (PLS) as well as soils, water and environmental sciences (SWES). Students are expected to obtain and apply fundamental principles of sciences to develop plant production systems, and land management programs locally, regionally, and globally. Graduates from this program will be well prepared academically to enter graduate degree programs or pursue employment in agricultural and related, green industries.

Specifically, this degree prepares students to work in agronomic and horticultural field and greenhouse crop production, including controlled environmental agriculture, permanent tree crop production, turf grass systems, and urban horticulture.

Expected Learning Outcomes: 

Student Learning Outcomes for the Plant Sciences Undergraduate Major

1. Explain the structure and function of cells, tissues, organs and their organization in the whole plant.

2. Explain the mechanistic basis of plant growth and development and physiological responses to biotic and abiotic factors.

3. Describe the diversity of plant form and function.

4. Describe the expression and inheritance of traits.

5. Develop critical thinking skills by evaluating information from multiple perspectives, drawing reasonable conclusions, and defending them rationally.

6. Communicate the importance of plant science in addressing major challenges facing society, including examples of how plant scientists have “solved” such problems.


Student Learning Outcomes for the Sustainable Plant Systems Undergraduate Major

1. Integrate and apply the general principles of Sustainable Plant Systems to specific plant production systems.

2. Demonstrate an understanding of the history, current conditions, and future challenges associated with plant science and production systems on a local and global scale.

3. Apply the basic principles of plant biology and soil science to plant production systems.

4. Think critically as demonstrated by evaluating information from multiple perspectives, drawing reasonable conclusions, and defending them rationally.

5. Communicate effectively principles and technical terms associated with plant production systems both orally and in writing.

Assessment Activities: 

Plant Sciences Undergraduate Major

Each learning objective is measured directly through embedded evaluations (pre-/post- tests) in core courses, as well as indirectly through an exit survey. Course-embedded evaluations are determined by the four faculty teaching core courses, while the senior survey was designed and approved by the PLS Curriculum/Teaching Committee (see attached).

Sustainable Plant Systems Undergraduate Major

See Assessment Activities under Department of Soils, Water and Environmental Sciences Undergraduate Programs


Assessment Findings: 

Plant Sciences Undergraduate Major

SPLS is successful in reaching the 6 learning objectives. Students demonstrated improvement in each learning outcome over the course of the semesters assessed with final average test scores approaching approximately 80% for all outcomes. 

Comparison of pre-test scores between lower and upper division courses reflect a cumulative increase in comprehension for 5 of the 6 learning outcomes. These data suggest that the foundation provided in earlier courses allows students to enter into upper division courses with higher baseline comprehension. The assessment indicates that students are able to retain information from earlier classes and apply it to new material.

Student exit survey data reflects 95% of Plant Sciences students reporting satisfaction with achieving the learning outcomes. 53 out of 84  (63%) students surveyed reported they were 'extremely well' or 'very well' prepared. 

Themes emerging from the free response sections of the exit survey suggest perceived program strengths and areas in which improvement is needed. Common themes emerging from the exit survey included: 

  1. Plant Science core courses effectively build on student learning.
  2. Quality of instructor was recognized as a unit strength.
  3. The variety of experiential learning opportunities provided to students, including undergraduate student jobs, lab experiences, independent study and directed research provided hands-on practical training and professional development, was valued. 
  4. Course availability issues were of concern. Specifically, the unit could reduce core course conflicts and ensure courses are offered predictably.
  5. Students expressed an interest in obtaining more practical training, in general, as well as more exposure to plant genetics and plant biochemistry.  

Sustainable Plant Systems Undergraduate Major

See Assessment Findings under Department of Soils, Water and Environmental Sciences Undergraduate Programs


Change in Response to Findings: 

Plant Sciences Undergraduate Major

The Curriculum/Teaching Committee will consider the following changes to the PLS coursework and curriculum:

  1. Evaluate core course schedules to minimize conflicts and increase consistency of offerings.
  2. Work with instructors to continue development of courses that provide practical training. Specifically, PLS361 has already been added to the curriculum to fill an important training gap in laboratory proficiency.
  3. Faculty and advisors are more assertively promoting experiential learning opportunities for students in the matriculation process, through advising appointments, and in cooperation with CALS Career and Academic Programs. 

Sustainable Plant Systems Undergraduate Major

See Change in Response to Findings under Department of Soils, Water and Environmental Sciences Undergraduate Programs


PDF icon AY2013-2016 assessment supplement.pdf258.6 KB
Updated date: Mon, 07/02/2018 - 16:12