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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Biochemistry major now available in Pott College

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A bachelor's degree program in biochemistry is now available at the University of Southern Indiana. The new program was approved in December by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

One of the first students to declare biochemistry as a major is Mandy Ford. She already holds a degree in business and works in the area of global procurement at Mead Johnson Nutrition Company. She said she chose the biochemistry program because it involves the specific study of the chemistry of living systems with reference to carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids.

"My career goal is to work in research and development focusing on genetics and its relation to pre-diabetes. After graduating from the biochemistry program, I will be prepared for immediate work as a laboratory technician or research assistant," she said.

Sophomore Andy Frazee is considering switching his major from chemistry to biochemistry. He conducts research in the biochemistry area with Dr. Jeannie T. Collins through the Early Undergraduate Research Program offered by the Pott College of Science and Engineering. Frazee enjoys both biology and chemistry.

"I'm currently on the pre-med track. The biochemistry program would entail the perfect balance of classses to get me ready for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test)," he said.

Interdisciplinary program

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

Two course plans

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.

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 Pott College established a concentration in biochemistry 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 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.



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