Fortunately, interest in biology and chemistry has recently risen dramatically.
Unfortunately, the interest in these disciplines has grown much faster than the College’s ability to properly accommodate its students.
Molecular Biology, an upper level biology course which is required for biochemistry and a prerequisite for many graduate school programs, filled up in a matter of no time during the most recent registration period.
Dr. Rachel Myerowitz reported that all students registered for the class are seniors, and 14 of them are biochemistry majors who have no other options but to take the course this year in order to graduate.
As of today, at least 10 students are on a waiting list, and each has very little chance of getting into the class.
Dr. Myerowitz says that she could handle another section if she wasn’t already acting as the department chair for Biology.
As department chair, she should have a reduced class load; obviously, that is not an option.
This situation seems very bad in and of itself, but the circumstances may be even worse.
When Dr. Danielle Cass left the Biochemistry department last year, Dr. Pamela Mertz (currently the only Biochemistry professor) inherited a huge work load that, she admits, is difficult to manage.
When I spoke to her about the issue, she said that even if the department found a replacement for Dr. Cass, they would still be short of personnel in the Chemistry department.
She also pointed about that all of the Chemistry department professors work very long hours and are operating at the edge of their capacity.
As a graduating senior myself who is not one of the lucky ones to be registered for Molecular Biology, I will not be able to complete my major in Biochemistry, and must instead settle for a degree in only Biology.
This in itself is not a tragedy (however, this means I’m currently taking Physical Chemistry as an elective, which may be considered a tragedy).
The truly disappointing reality is that I may be less competitive for the graduate schools for which I’m in the process of applying, considering they expect their students to have taken Molecular Biology.
My fate is mostly sealed; but, what about the future of our science programs?
Science, especially biology, represents one of the highest percentages for intended majors of incoming students.
This year, about 1/3rd of the incoming class was registered for Principles of Biology (POB) along with about 50 students with sophomore status or higher.
Dr. Gordon reports that since 1992, the number of students registered for POB (two weeks after the start of classes) has increased from 88 to 167 students. Considering that this year, each POB section was completely filled with an about 10 students on a waiting list, the department decided to create additional sections for POB.
This requires more personnel. While it seems likely that this request will be approved by the Board of Trustees, it is doubtful that the final dollar amount will be sufficient to hire a qualified individual.
What is going to happen when these students move on to Genetics? Genetics is another required bio class (also taught by Dr. Myerowitz along with Dr. Byrd) which is usually taken during the fall of sophomore year.
What will happen when these students go to take upper level classes? In reality, the college administration must divert more resources to the science departments; we need more professors.
This situation is only getting worse, and the quality of education and the reputation of St. Mary’s depend on prompt action.
The department is faced with some tough decisions. Will they decide to restrict classes in order to work within their budget, thereby turning eager mind away, or will they accept substandard circumstances to accommodate growth?
In some cases, we have already seen a decrease in the quality of education offered as professors are forced forfeit upper level electives in order to teach basic courses.
For example, Dr. Mertz gave up teaching an upper level course in nutrition in order to cover first semester Biochemistry.
Students reading this may ask: “what am I suppose to do about this problem?” Well, I’d like to remind you that you recently become eligible to vote which means you have something politicians want.
Since we are a state college, additional funding must be approved by politicians so contact your congressmen; Senator Dyson has an office only 10 minutes from campus.
Or simple voice your complaints to the provost who oversees all these funding issues.
I’d like to thank all of the Biology and Chemistry professors for their dedication and tenacious work ethic. Each professor puts a great deal of effort into teaching and mentorship.
I think I speak for many students when I say that I’m thankful for my time at St. Mary’s, and could not picture myself at any other institution.
I hope that the administration gives the program the support it deserves.