CFANS terms cloud meaning

Faculty say CFANS terminology confuses students but are divided on what to do.

CFANS terms cloud meaning

Anne Millerbernd

Some faculty members within the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences consider it a “discovery” college, meaning many students learn about its majors late in their college career.

College administrators and faculty members have noticed a lack of understanding among students about what specific majors and common terms in CFANS curricula mean, and they’re split on how to address the issue.

“We have real problems with name recognition within this college,” said Jay Bell, CFANS associate dean of academic programs and faculty affairs. “We have some trouble with some people even knowing that there’s disciplines [within CFANS].”

The University’s Office of Measurement Services and CFANS surveyed University of Minnesota and high school students in February 2011 to see how well they recognized terms used within the college.

Connie Tzenis, a part-time faculty member who worked on the survey, said it found students were interested in general areas of study in CFANS like environment or wildlife. But students had trouble understanding the names of some specific CFANS majors and areas of study.

For example, Tzenis said few students understood what “biobased products,” “food production” and “entomology” mean. But she said the survey found many students were familiar with terms like environment, animals and entrepreneurship.

Many majors’ names use terminology that faculty members are familiar with, Bell said, but students can’t always relate to that phrasing.

“If you looked at the list … plants, sustainability, food — all those resonated [with students],” he said. “So that’s the language we need to be using, not the language that was developed 100 years ago.”

Bell said faculty members sometimes become “enamored” with their fields of study and terms associated with them.

But entomology associate professor Vera Krischik said using the proper terminology is important. Because some disciplines within CFANS have long histories, she said, each field’s traditional vocabulary has meaning.

Tzenis said CFANS majors and departments sometimes have long names because faculty members want to feel like their area of study is included.

But the survey showed a correlation between the length of a major’s name and the level of student interest, Tzenis said.

“The longer the major got, the less interested in it students were,” she said. “Students don’t need to know the whole major within the name.”

Agricultural education senior Stephanie Kasper said she didn’t have a hard time understanding the phrasing CFANS used when she came to the University. She said her upbringing gave her an advantage many prospective CFANS students don’t have.

“I grew up on a dairy farm, so I’ve been blessed with a better understanding,” she said. “I was heavily involved in 4-H and [Future Farmers of America] when I was in high school.”

Though renaming CFANS’ current majors would be a strenuous process, Bell said, some departments are considering it.

CFANS launched two new majors this fall — Plant Science and Food Systems. When naming them, Bell said, administrators considered the survey’s results.

In 2006, a University task force created CFANS by merging the College of Natural Resources, the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences and the Department of Food Science and Nutrition.

Bell said CFANS’ name is long because each college involved wanted to be represented in it. He said he doesn’t expect the name to change anytime soon.

“People have kind of just gotten used to CFANS,” Bell said. “Those people maybe don’t know what CFANS stands for, but at least it’s a name that’s on the college.”

Bell said transfers are important to CFANS because students don’t often recognize it as one of their prospective colleges.

This fall, nearly 450 students started in CFANS for their first semester at the University. In addition, more than 280 — about 10 percent of the college’s total enrollment — transferred in.

Krischik said she thinks few high school students choose CFANS for their first year at the University, because they’re unfamiliar with the school’s curriculum.

Wayzata High School resource management and biology teacher Mark Sonderup said he doesn’t cover things like entomology in his course, because they don’t fit into the lesson plan.

“We’re so stuck in the amount of the time that we have to teach what the state says that we have to teach. … It’s mostly cell bio stuff that we’re teaching,” he said.

Despite pushes from some CFANS administrators, Bell said, few departments are likely to make substantial changes to their name. He said CFANS will continue to be a discovery college.

“Frankly,” he said, “I think that our college is one of the best-kept secrets in the University.”