Graduate Program Student Learning Outcomes

Graduate Program Learning Outcomes Assessment
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences


The Department of Crop and Soil Sciences offers MS and PhD programs in two broad areas: crop science and soil science. Programs are designed to discover and develop principles of crop and soil sciences and to apply these principles to the development of new crop varieties and new crop, soil and water management practices in agricultural, urban, and natural environments.

Crop science specialization areas include crop genetics and breeding; physiology; biotechnology; ecology, management and production (including turf management and weed science); and cereal chemistry. While students may elect to specialize in one area, excellent opportunities are available for the development of graduate research projects integrating two or more areas. Plant breeding and genetics research programs include improvement of wheat, barley, pea, lentil, and other legumes with: isozyme, aneuploid, RFLP and RAPD facilitated genome mapping; cloning and molecular analysis. Current research focuses on the genetics and physiology of water and nitrogen use efficiency, grain end use quality, seed germination and dormancy, pathogen resistance and herbicide resistance.

Soil science may be studied either as natural bodies or as a medium for chemical and biochemical interactions for transport of water, solutes and heat, and for plant growth. Washington State University is located in one of the best geographical areas in the world for the study of soils as naturally occurring bodies. Graduate programs are usually designed to specialize in the physical, chemical, biological, mineralogical, geomorphological, or fertility aspects of the soil system. Current soil science research programs in which graduate students are participating include: unsaturated water flow; soil- plant relationships; stability of minerals and controls on heavy metal levels; nutrient budgets of cropping systems; movement and transformation of pesticides and xenobiotic chemicals; microbial ecology; fate of engineered microorganisms; phytotoxicity and crop residue management; no-till soil and crop management; fertility and mineral nutrition; soil interpretations for land use and development; benchmark soils; agricultural and urban waste recycling. Faculty members in Soil Science also participate in the interdepartmental Department of Biochemistry/Biophysics and the Program in Environmental Science at Washington State University, and cooperate with the University of Idaho in teaching graduate courses.

Crop or Soil Science degree programs can be developed to study sustainability of alternative cropping systems such as organic, site-specific, biointensive and direct-seed systems that focus on crop productivity, economic stability, biodiversification, natural resource conservation, and environmental protection. Both programs are governed by bylaws approved by the WSU faculty senate and a graduate student handbook that contains official guidance for students in the program.

Mission Statement

The mission of the Graduate Program in CSS is to provide fundamental training in basic and applied plant and soil sciences. Upon completion of their graduate program, students in CSS will be able to formulate, design, and implement research, evaluate and interpret data objectively,
and communicate results of their work effectively in oral and written forms.


  1. Develop effective programs for students that allow them to become well educated and highly skilled individuals with the potential to be national and international leaders;
  2. Conduct scientific research on globally relevant problems in crop and soil sciences and contribute this knowledge to their discipline;
  3. Enhance the visibility and impact of graduate programs in crop and soil sciences;
  4. Place students in lead academic, research, and industry positions.

Learning Outcomes

  1. Knowledge of field. Understands the breadth and depth of knowledge associated with their discipline;
  2. Scientific reasoning. Designs, conducts, analyzes, and interprets research effectively on important problems in their discipline;
  3. Communication. Communicates effectively to a diverse group of people using appropriate traditional and emerging technological media;
  4. Original contribution. Makes an original contribution to their discipline.

Graduate Program Assessment Plan

Direct measures of student learning

Direct measures of student learning will be conducted concurrently with the PhD oral preliminary exam, MS and PhD final research seminar, and the thesis/dissertation final defense. Mean student GPA, peer reviewed student research publication, co-authorship on research
grants, and student teaching performance will also be used as direct measures of student learning. Program assessment of graduate student work, including our data sources, method of assessment, how often the data is collected, and expectations of each of the methods is summarized in Table 1 (pdf). These sources were chosen because they are required by all Crop and Soil Science graduate students and they align with our learning outcomes.

Preliminary exam.

The preliminary exam determines whether a student is academically qualified to be admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree. The exam assess the students’ knowledge of the crop or soil science discipline and sub-disciplines, their ability to think critically and independently, their ability to conduct independent research (form hypotheses, design experiments, collect and analyze data, put the research in context of the current state of knowledge, and draw conclusions) and to communicate information in verbal and written formats. For both crop and soil science majors, a rubric will be used by all members of the student’s graduate advisory committee to assess student performance. We have identified a score of 5.0 as the minimum expected for a student graduating with a PhD.

The PhD preliminary exam can take one of two forms: a written/oral exam focused on knowledge in discipline/sub-discipline areas or the preparation and presentation/defense of a formal research proposal. Regardless of the format chosen the program goals remain the same and rubric for evaluating the exam applies equally.

Thesis/dissertation defense.

The defense is an oral exam at which the student defends the background, hypothesis, methods, interpretation, and conclusions of their research. All faculty members are invited to attend the exam and ask questions, but only members of the thesis or dissertation committee and the graduate faculty may vote. For both crop and soil science majors, a rubric will be used by all members of the student’s advisory committee to assess student performance. We have identified a score of 4.0 as the minimum expected for a student graduating with a MS degree and a score of 5.0 as the minimum expected for PhD graduates.

Complimentary measures and activities of instruction and student learning to align with program goals.

We will use indirect measures to evaluate students’ perceived learning, such as exit surveys and course evaluations. Other complimentary measures of instruction and student learning will include peer evaluation of faculty teaching, faculty and student development workshop in teaching and learning, student research presentations at professional meetings, student awards, and placement data.

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Samantha Crow
Program Specialist 2