Associate Dean Says Undergrad Biology at FGCU the Best in Florida
FORT MYERS, FL -Florida Gulf Coast University will soon boast that it is the premier state university in Florida for a degree in undergraduate biology and the program has the potential to attain national recognition in less than a decade.
“The best that students can get in the state of Florida is here at FGCU,” said Donna Price-Henry, Associate Dean in Physiology, referring to the forthcoming combination of current and new program faculty, existing and planned curricula, and the new $10 million Science, Math and Technology Education building. “If I were to do my undergraduate experience all over again, I would hope to find a program in the sciences like we have at FGCU.”
The Whitaker Foundation funded a $300,000 match grant to establish a Center for Excellence in Biological Sciences by 2002 at FGCU. Once matched dollar-for-dollar with private funds, the total $600,000 will jumpstart the creation of the Center by allowing FGCU to hire five biological scientists in one year. FGGU says the “cluster hire” will create a significant accumulation of scientific expertise that will help grow the University’s life science programs and create the biology curriculum that the University deems is needed by undergraduate students in the 21st century.
“We see the University as a major undergraduate center for applied and quantified biology,” Brad Bartel, FGCU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, said in his proposal letter to the Whitaker Foundation. “I plan to develop a critical mass of life and health science faculty who will cross-train science students in our College of Arts and Sciences, and College of Health Professions.”
FGCU said in its proposal for the grant that the specific rationale behind the Center for Excellence in Biological Science and the cluster hire of new faculty is to address the crucial need to transfer science practices from researchers to K-12 teachers so that students can learn science as a process rather than just a body of knowledge. The Center will team faculty research with undergraduate science training and teacher education.
FGCU, as a university, is prime for developing this type of biological curriculum. The University’s traditional emphasis on undergraduate research directly connects its science studies to its curriculum and students. The coupling paves the way for the University to develop undergraduate programs in biotechnology and marine science, and graduate programs in environmental studies. Later plans include developing engineering programs and incorporating those plans into the new biotechnology curriculum.
The University also brings another giant asset to the table: its new $10 million, 57,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art Science, Math and Technology Education Building. Facilitated by a previous match grant from the Whitaker Foundation, the physical amenities of the building, such as individual high-tech labs for teaching, computers and research, offer expanded opportunities to attract quality students in science and mathematics from just about everywhere.
“We are offering what students can get at a private university at a state university price,” Price-Henry said. “Our undergraduate students train in a state-of-the-art science building. They work with Ph.D.s to get their undergraduate experience. The program is unique because it requires students to do a senior research project. That is not available at any other state university in Florida.”
The disciplines for the new cluster hire - one senior faculty member and four junior faculty - will be in human, plant, animal or marine systems. The probable areas of expertise that FGCU is seeking include Analytical Biochemist, Biometrician, Population Geneticist, GIS/Biogeographer and Cellular Biologist/Bioengineer.
“These are the best and brightest. These people will be unique because we are looking for people interested in teaching undergraduates. They are typically trained to be researchers, not educators,” Price-Henry said. The total grant will allow FGCU to complete the cluster hire without using any state funds.
“The Whitaker Foundation is thrilled to see us move forward,” Price-Henry said. “They monitor projects closely to make sure the money they donate is being used appropriately. They are actually going to jumpstart some of our programs. Their reason for giving the money was for that purpose and also so we will not have to wait for state funds.”
“They want to see quality undergraduate education in the sciences,” she said.
One of the goals of the Whitaker Foundation is to help biomedical engineers and graduate students prepare for and establish research careers.
Some of the private sector sources that FGCU is asking for match funds include the citrus, sugar and pharmaceutical industries.
An external advisory board will support the development and maintenance of the science programs, and offer expert advice for curriculum, staffing, employment opportunities and potential financial support. Plans for board membership include faculty and student representatives, local community members representing science and math interests, and faculty/administrative representatives from other universities in the state or nation.
For more information, contact Price-Henry at (941) 590-7158.