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Biology major adds 5 new courses to core curriculum


The fall 2016 semester saw a complete change in course material for incoming freshmen biology students. The biology department restructured the major and curriculum, adding five new foundational classes mandatory for all majors.

Steven Gorsich, a biology professor and chair of the curriculum design committee, said the changes are critical. The major will now focus on the integration of sciences. This encourages students to think of concepts on a larger scale, linking them to other areas in biology and science, Gorsich said.

Concepts will be discussed in the context of diversity of life and evolution, Gorsich explained.

“We really felt we needed to build the first courses of the curriculum around this foundation,” he said. “That’s what biology is, and we’ll continue to build upon on that foundation throughout the curriculum.”

Biology chairperson Tracy Galarowicz said diversity and evolution were previously taught as a part of the introduction to biology course, but the new course will provide greater context for students.

Midland sophomore Nicolette Konze said she thinks evolution is a critical topic in biology, and is important for the focus to be mandatory.

The five new core classes — Foundations of Evolution and Diversity, Foundations of Cell Biology, Foundations of Genetics, Foundations of Ecology and Foundations of Form and Function — will be taken in the same sequenced order by all biology students.

In the old curriculum, Galarowicz said, biology students took different courses. While there was some overlap, it was not the same foundational material.

The courses can build off each other, as students are taking the same foundational courses, she said. It will be beneficial for both student comprehension and faculty.

Gorsich said instructors will be able to make the education process more streamlined because they will know what students have already been taught.

Galarowicz said she hopes that by taking classes in a sequenced order, biology students will develop a strong cohort -— a sense of being in it together.

After students take all the foundation courses in their first two years, they will move on to more upper-level classes more specific to their concentration.

Gorsich said the department recommends students to wait until the end of sophomore year to sign a major. That way, after foundational courses have been completed, they will have a wide perspective on biology before choosing their track.

“I feel like it (foundation courses) will be helpful in figuring out your concentration,” Konze said. “I know I’m not really sure yet. I know I like plants and bacteria, but I have no idea how to specialize.”

An article titled “Vision and Change,” published by the National Science Foundation, motivated many of the curriculum changes, Gorsich said. The article emphasized teaching biology student’s competencies, integrating sciences and the social impact of science.

He said the document had a lot of credibility because the article was put together by people who study science education.