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New life science majors equip students for careers
September 29, 1997

The life sciences at UConn have undergone a facelift in recent years to provide students with more flexibility, options, and opportunities to find jobs in the competitive global economy.

Demand for college graduates qualified in environmental science among potential employers prompted the University to start a multidisciplinary degree program in environmental science in 1994. The program was developed with existing resources by a dozen faculty members at the request of the Chancellor's office. It now has more than 160 students.

"There was great interest from students, especially freshmen, who observed the environmental problems and wanted to get into jobs that will help them to solve the problems," says David Schroeder, co-director of the program and head of the natural resources management and engineering department.

The program gives students a solid background in science and technology to deal with environmental problems. The curriculum is based on math, physics, chemistry and biological sciences, as well as economics, policy, law and social issues related to the environment. The core curriculum consists of course work in nine different subject areas offered by several departments in the Colleges of Agriculture and Liberal Arts and Sciences.

"This program is ... the only one offered by two of the major colleges," Schroeder says.

Environmental science, which will graduate about 25 to 30 students each year, provides the students with a broad grounding in environmental sciences in the first two years. In their junior year, they declare an area of concentration: resource economics, environmental health, environmental biology, environmental chemistry, environmental geography, environmental geoscience, marine science, natural resources or soil science.

"This is a very busy curriculum with no electives and requires great aptitude for science and willingness to stay dedicated to the curriculum. It's very challenging," says Ted Taigen, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and co-director of the program.

Liberal arts and sciences students in the program often declare a double major, to give themselves more flexibility in their careers and open up additional opportunities in the environmental field, he says.

Students in concentration areas like marine sciences, geology, and natural resources are required to get field experience or an internship. Students have been interns at Mystic Aquarium, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Norwalk Maritime Center. Schroeder and Taigen hope to formalize internship opportunities in the future.

In a further step to improve the life sciences program, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences last year began offering a major in ecology and evolutionary biology, in addition to the majors in biological sciences, molecular and cell biology, biophysics, and physiology and neurobiology. Students interested in careers in research, medicine, dentistry, or veterinary science may select any of these majors.

The new ecology and evolutionary biology major is designed for students with interests in the biology of organisms, including biodiversity, biological systematics, evolution, ecology, botany, zoology, environmental biology, and conservation biology, says Greg Anderson, head of the ecology and evolutionary biology department. Students are required to obtain 24 credits in ecology and evolutionary biology and 12 credits in a related area.

"The ecology and evolutionary biology courses are designed to provide breadth in whole organisms and evolutionary and ecological processes," he says, "and depth in an area of their interest."

Usha Palaniswamy