Biology, chemistry to create new master’s program

Megan Ivey, Staff Reporter

The biology and chemistry departments have teamed together to offer a new master’s program in biochemistry and biotechnology in the summer of 2016.

The Board of Trustees approved the new program during its meeting on Sept. 18. It is currently undergoing approval from the Illinois Board of Higher Education. If approved, the recruitment process will begin the Spring 2016 semester, with coursework beginning the same summer.

They are anticipating 10 students for the first year and to grow the program to 25 students once fully in effect.

Karen Gaines, the department chair of biological sciences, said the biochemistry and biotechnology fields often cross over each other, so prospective students will need to have a strong background in both biology and chemistry.

Although they overlap, biochemistry is more focused and aligned for work in the medical field, while biotechnology has an agriculture and biofuel focus, Gaines said.

She said the departments hope to attract international students.

“We know we are going to appeal to an international market, and we want to,” she said.

Gaines, who is also the co-director of the master’s program for geographic information sciences, said the biological sciences and chemistry department wanted to add more programs with similar hands-on methods after seeing success in the GIS master’s created three to four years ago.

“When those became successes, it became pretty apparent to me that we had a niche here and could do the same thing but in the biotech industry,” Gaines said.

Gaines said the program differs from a traditional thesis master’s and prepares students to have highly trained experience for the workforce.

“An emerging component of getting your master’s degree now in education is moving away from a traditional thesis master’s and going into something that’s more designed to get you a job and prepare you with a certain level of skills,” she said. “In the MBA program, this has always been the case, but been a little bit lagging for science.”

The subtopics of the program cross into similar fields and so do the departments. Gaines said the biological sciences department and chemistry department cover all aspects.

“In education, we can’t be in the silos of the biology department, the chemistry department, it’s all interdisciplinary,” she said. “We’ve learned so much from each other between biology and chemistry to get this going.”

The program also works with the Master of Business Administration to give the students another added component for the workforce. Students will be able to take two courses from the MBA program.

Gaines said many alumni from the two departments have found jobs in the field already and was a motivating factor to develop a program for future students.

“Many of our students who have master’s degrees eventually find their way to there, so let’s create a pathway that’s better,” she said.

Alumni who are in the field will assist in the program by offering students internships in their sophomore year.

“Everyone that we have reached out to are EIU alumni,” she said. “They’re willing to help us get students placed into these internships.”

Gaines said they are receiving a lot of support from administration and undergraduate students.

“It was one of the first programs President Glassman noticed that was emerging and he has given us a ton of support,” she said. “We are responding to what students want and these types of interdisciplinary programs are going the make the university stronger.”

Megan Ivey can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]