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Friday, February 12, 2010

USI adds degree program in biochemistry

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Betty Vawter
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A bachelor's degree program in biochemistry is now available at the University of Southern Indiana.

The interdisciplinary program will provide a strong combination of chemistry and biology experiences to prepare students for scientific careers in industries such as biotechnology, pharmacology, and environmental chemistry and for graduate study or professional schools in medicine, pharmacy, and related fields. With advancing knowledge, biochemistry has become a major field of science offering expanded employment opportunities.

Dr. Scott A. Gordon, dean of the Pott College of Science and Engineering and professor of biology, said, "Students will have the opportunity to gain valuable skills and experiences for a wide range of high-skill and high-wage careers that exist in the state and region."

Gordon expects the biochemistry program to become a popular choice among students. A recent analysis indicated that high school students taking the Preliminary SAT exam listed biology and chemistry as their top two intended majors.

"A number of students enter the University wanting to learn about the intersection of these two disciplines," he said. "The biochemistry program helps students gain a better understanding of living systems and how their components work, react, and interact."

The new degree program offers two course plans. One focuses more on chemistry content and meets guidelines specified by the American Chemistry Society. Dr. Jeffrey W. Seyler, chair of the Department of Chemistry and professor of chemistry, said this track is ideally suited for students interested in graduate and industrial biochemistry research programs.

The other track is a more symmetrical split between chemistry and biology content. Seyler said, "It may be more appealing to students interested in professional programs such as medical or pharmacy school."

Both tracks include an undergraduate research component. Students can select from chemistry- or biology-related research projects conducted under the supervision of Pott College faculty.

The University also offers a minor in biochemistry. Seyler said it is an excellent choice for students in other University programs, such as business and communications, who are interested in careers in health-related businesses.

USI has a long track record of preparing students for success in graduate and professional schools. Dr. Henri R. Maurice, chair of the Department of Biology and associate professor of biology, said, "Our alumni report that the coursework they completed at USI was sufficiently challenging and contained appropriate content for success in medical programs. Medical school faculty have told us that USI students are well prepared."

The new program at USI is the only biochemistry program at a public institution of higher education within 120 miles of Evansville. The program is designed to attract entering freshmen as well as transfer students from community colleges.

The Pott College established a concentration in biochemistry within the existing chemistry program five years ago as a foundation for a biochemistry major. Due to the existing courses, the new degree program may have its first graduates as early as spring 2011.

Need for the new program was determined by the increased number of students in the biochemistry concentration, inquiries from prospective students, and anticipated increases in employment opportunities in biochemistry-related fields.

A listing of the Hoosier Hot 50 Jobs prepared by Indiana Workforce Development indicates 16 percent growth is expected for medical and clinical lab technicians in Southwest Indiana over the decade from 2006-16. Over the same time period, other occupational projections show an increased need in the state and nationally for individuals in fields that employ biochemistry graduates.

The biochemistry degree program required the development of one new course: CHEMISTRY 361, Survey of Physical Chemistry. The departments of chemistry and biology have qualified faculty for all required courses. Two tenure-track positions were added to the chemistry faculty in 2008. The University provides state-of-the art classrooms, research laboratories, computer labs, and equipment for the study of science.

The program was approved in December by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.



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