Schools Offer New Majors in Biology and Informatics

The School of Biological Sciences will be introducing four new majors available next fall: ecology and evolutionary biology, genetics, neurobiology, and plant biology to their department in addition to biochemistry, molecular biology, biological sciences, and developmental and cell biology, which are already a part of the curriculum.
With a growing population in the School of Biological Sciences, more diversity is necessary to suit the needs and interests of each student, according to professor of biochemistry Thomas Poulos.
The new majors will be offered starting fall 2004. Those who choose to focus on one of the new majors can graduate with that major from the year 2004 and onwards.
Incoming freshmen with intentions of obtaining a degree in the biological sciences now have the option to apply for the traditional biology major or the new evolution and ecology major. Only after the end of sophomore year can students pursue any of the other aforementioned majors.
According to Cindy Eddleman, co-director of the Biological Sciences Student Affairs Office, the idea of establishing new majors occurred when the School of Biological Sciences was evaluated at its five-year review. The three to four day event includes an evaluation of the school and its programs.
‘The Senate appoints members from across the country to review different academic units,’ Eddleman said.
Faculty members and their quality of teaching are also evaluated. The main intentions for these majors are to motivate students who have an interest in these areas and want to concentrate on a specific subject.
‘The idea behind the new majors are if a student has a deep interest in genetics, they can focus in that area, but most [students] will focus on the [biological sciences major],’ Eddleman said.
Changes have been made to the current curriculum to correlate with the new majors. Such alterations are the addition of new biology electives, such as the introduction of Bio 93 and the deletion of Bio 96 from the core classes.
Biology students welcome the variety of majors presented like second-year biology major Cynthia Ortega.
‘It’s good there are more options and you can know your interests on a more specific level which will help you for graduate school and medical school,’ Ortega said.
While some may perceive biological sciences majors as budding health professionals, the changes the biology department is making might open doors for other options.
The new majors ‘will have no effect with future career options,’ Eddleman said, which will allow students to pursue whichever profession they intend to with no limitations.’
This may be the case for first-year Tan Nguyen who said, ‘I think I might want to major in ecology and evolution because I’m interested in saving the rainforest.’
While the four new majors in the School of Biological Sciences have already been approved, a major in informatics within the School of ICS awaits approval from the regents which it hopes to be granted as early as fall 2004.
‘Informatics is the interdisciplinary study of the design, application, use and impact of information technology,’ said Andre van der Hoek, assistant professor for the School of ICS.
Unlike conventional computer science which focuses on the fundamentals of computer architecture and programming skills, informatics will primarily focus on software architecture, software development and human computer interaction.
According to Hoek, the major also gears towards topics that exist between information technology design and its use in social and organizational settings.
The problem facing many faculty members in the School of ICS was that the current four-year ICS curriculum lacked a comprehensive education in all the areas of information and computer science. The School of ICS solved this problem by recently establishing two new majors in addition to the traditional ICS major. They are computer science and engineering, and computer science which consists of a mix between computer hardware and software.
With the addition of the informatics major, the school will reach its goal of what it calls a three-tiered approach to undergraduate education. This structure consists of an upper layer which focuses on the study of informatics, a middle layer consisting of theory and databases and a lower layer consisting of the study of hardware design and computer networks, each concentrating on a particular aspect of computer science.
‘Informatics welcomes students who have an interest in creative design, and who generally are curious about developing solutions, not just programs,’ Hoek said.
The schools intention for adding this new major was to purposely try to move away from misleading conceptions that computer science majors are ‘mad hackers’ with hopes of attracting a variety of students with different backgrounds to pursue a degree in informatics.
A few occupational and career options available to students who graduate with an informatics degree include software engineering, software architecture, information analysis and information design.
Additionally, with the expanding number of programming careers heading overseas to countries such as India and China, informatics graduates will have an advantage over students from the traditional computer science major which will focus on skills that will test their ability to design software systems and other aspects of software design.
‘Their skills of designing solutions and systems will be crucial for the domestic software industry,’ Hoek stated.
Some ICS students believe that the new major will still teach the fundamentals of computer science and not offer anything new.
‘I think an [informatics] major will be just like the IC major so I don’t know if it will really make a big difference in terms of more career options,’ said Brian Trinh, a fourth-year ICS major. ‘Once the school gets more faculty, the classes will start to evolve and the content and curriculum will get more similar.’