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USFSM Ushers In Scientific Renaissance With Mote Partnership, New Science Labs, Biology Major

The STEM curriculum is a rapidly evolving organism at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. On Oct. 17, USFSM held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of its new science labs at Mote Marine Laboratories and announced that a new undergraduate major will be offered in biology at the university starting next fall.

Willis A. Smith Construction oversaw the development of a biology lab, chemistry lab and student teaching area in a pre-existing 4,600-square-foot research facility on the Mote Marine campus. Designed by Fawley-Bryant Architects, each lab includes 26 student stations that are served by laboratory gas and fume snorkels. An additional laboratory prep area serving both the biology and chemistry labs houses high-tech research tools including autoclaves, incubators, sub-zero freezers and student safety stations.

The $1.5 million project was funded by private donors, foundations and grants that covered the cost of construction as well as the purchase of lab equipment. Construction took place between the months of March and August, 2013, when the labs welcomed its first batch of undergraduate students.

Dr. Jane Rose,  Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at USFSM, says that students will not only receive valuable hands-on access to state-of-the-art laboratory equipment, but they will also benefit from one-on-one face-time with world-class researchers and teaching scientists who partner with the university from 22 diverse research programs at Mote Marine.

"While the partnership was developed as a way for the university just to get into the sciences, it has enabled us to do so in very a special way, and to make a contribution to the whole state repertoire of science programs. Most importantly, it's a chance to really serve our students from the Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte County region,'' says Rose.

The new state-of-the-art laboratories at Mote Marine and B.S. Biology program for undergraduate students are integral elements in USFSM’s transition into a full four-year institution of higher learning, which began in August when the university welcomed its first class of incoming freshmen.

The biology program is in its pilot year at the university. The degree program does not officially launch until Fall 2014, but current students can declare a biology major and begin to pursue pre-requisite coursework in the biology field at any time. A small group of students began attending classes in the labs when the Fall 2013 semester commenced in August.

"Florida offers many undergraduate biology degrees, but none of them will be quite like ours. In most major universities, the research faculty generally delivers the lecture section to auditoriums filled with hundreds of students, but it's graduate students who are teaching the labs. Undergrad students don't get to know the real research faculty well until they've advanced in their degree or until they're graduate students, which comes down to a class size issue. Our classes will be intentionally small so that students have close working relationships with the research faculty as early as their freshman year,'' Rose says.

"Whether it's a Mote Marine researcher or our faculty leading the students, they will not only be delivering the lecture portion of the courses, but they will also be in the labs working with those students, which will make the labs much more significant. Many people would argue that where scientists really learn is in the lab components of their courses,'' Rose adds.

Rose says that prior to the introduction of the B.S. in biology program, there was no biology degree available for public university students in the Sarasota-Manatee-Charlotte region.

"These students will be be at an advantage because they have had so much meaningful lab experience right from the beginning of their college careers. They will be competitive in entry level lab jobs in medical field and in industrial research and development with their undergraduate degrees, but more importantly, most careers in the sciences do involved graduate study. Students working in our research labs will be well-prepared for that,'' Rose says.

"Now, not only can you stay here to get a biology degree, but you can stay here to get a biology degree to be envied.''

Writer: Jessi Smith
Source: Jane Rose, USFSM

Read more articles by Jessi Smith.

 Jessi Smith is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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