By Sam Phillips
A bachelor’s degree in biochemistry is now available at Youngstown State University, giving students interested in both biology and chemistry the option to explore both fields.
Michael Serra, an associate professor of biochemistry, said there has been discussion of implementing the biochemistry degree for over 20 years. He started the process in 2011, and it was finally approved on Aug. 12, 2015.
“We hope students who are especially interested in health-related fields — like medicine, dental school and pharmaceuticals — will see this as a degree that will really give them an advantage,” Serra said.
Tim Wagner, chair of the department of chemistry, said there will be no new classes.
“We already have the classes, faculty, the lab space, the teaching space in classrooms, all those components that are needed for this new program. It was just a matter of making formal arrangements. We won’t have to hire any new faculty. We won’t have to worry about research or teaching space or developing a new curriculum,” Serra said.
The biochemistry curriculum combines chemistry, biology, math and physics classes that are already taught at the university.
“A nice feature regarding implementation of the new program is that we are really just formalizing the biochemistry focus area our students had the option to pursue before. It’s just that now a student’s transcripts will actually say ‘BS in biochemistry’ as opposed to ‘BS in chemistry,’” Wagner said.
Serra said that costs for the new program are minimal.
“It may cost more in lab supplies, for example. That was something that Provost Martin Abraham asked us to consider when we presented this idea to him,” Serra said. “But we think that cost will be more than offset with things like lab fees and tuition. Overall, it will be positive. I hope we attract a few students who otherwise might not have come.”
Brian Leskiw, associate professor of physical chemistry, handed out around 300 surveys to freshman and high school students in the area to predict how many incoming freshman would be interested in the new program.
Based on the results, Serra predicts that 20 students enter the program each year. Serra also said there are a wide variety of career paths that biochemistry majors can take after he or she graduates.
“While putting this together, we were looking at where people with biochemistry degrees go,” Serra said. “There was discussion of law, of chemistry and agriculture — and how biochemists could fit into that — studying how herbicides affect insects, for example. So, there’s a fairly broad range. But I am thinking we will mostly have students in health-related fields.”
Wagner said that students with a degree in biochemistry will be prepared for pharmacy or medical schools and jobs in pharmaceutical companies, commercial food industries and forensic science.
Although the biochemistry degree is new to YSU, Serra looked at schools within a 50-mile radius and discovered that every other school already had a biochemistry program.
“We were a little late to the game,” Serra said.
But he said the scientific instruments students have access to here give us an advantage.
“One of the things I pride myself on is that we are well equipped with instrumentation. That’s what really drives research,” Serra said. “The better instruments you have the more you can do. We let our students get their hands on the instruments at a fairly early start.”
He said he is optimistic that the program will prepare students to do what they want.
“We offer a strong and rigorous program. We will prepare students very well, primarily in the health field, although it’s certainly not limited to that,” Serra said. “We will give students a good education.”