U biology faculty try to polish program

The group hopes to better train students for employment and school positions.

Jerret Raffety

Changes could be coming to undergraduate programs for the College of Biological Sciences.

A task force of 13 faculty members at the college is preparing a list of recommendations for possible improvements to the programs, said Robin Wright, associate dean of the school and chairwoman of the task force.

“We want to be recognized as developing and delivering the highest-ranked undergraduate biology program in the nation,” Wright said.

The task force’s first step was to define the college’s mission as a series of five expected educational outcomes, she said. These outcomes include trying to best prepare students to work in evolving fields of biology.

“In order to be a successful biologist, you need skills that much of our faculty either doesn’t have or have had to pick up on the job,” Wright said.

She said that the task force has been meeting monthly since September 2003. It will make recommendations on how to improve lower-level College of Biological Sciences classes for both biology and nonbiology students.

“There’s been a big shift toward merging physical sciences, mathematics and engineering with biological sciences,” Wright said.

Another expected outcome of the task force will be to prepare students to work with new technologies and approaches as they are conceived, she said.

This also includes improved and less “cook-book” style laboratory experiments, she said.

The effort will be to find new discoveries that nobody else has ever found, she said.

“That’s what makes a research university different,” she said.

New curriculums in the lower-level classes could lead to re-evaluation of upper-level curriculums, Wright said.

Some task force members said they believe lower-level course changes will allow students to declare majors and take more stimulating classes earlier.

“This foundational knowledge will also enable the students to pursue relevant fieldwork, laboratory and research activities prior to their senior year,” said Sandra Armstrong, an associate professor in the microbiology department and task force member.

Wright said the task force is also working to create mechanisms to monitor the success of its recommendations.

David Bernlohr, head of the biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics department and task force member, said one of the group’s hopes is that students will be better trained to compete for employment and positions in graduate, medical and dental schools.

“We want to make sure we’re not simply adding more requirements for graduation,” he said.

Wright said the next step for the task force will be to present the recommendations and an implementation timeline to College of Biological Sciences students, staff and faculty members for feedback in May at the All-College Meeting.

The Educational Policy Committee of the University Senate will vote on these recommendations in September, and separate task forces will be established to plan how to implement them, Wright said.