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February 17, 2003


LA CROSSE, Wis.—The Viterbo University Natural Sciences Division was one of only 15 programs in the U.S. to receive an Undergraduate Science Research grant this year from Merck and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The $60,000, three-year grant supports programs that foster the interaction between biology and chemistry departments and will provide Viterbo University students with greater research opportunities directly on campus.

"This is a really exciting time to be in the sciences at Viterbo. The grant will greatly enhance our science program and strengthen our faculty-directed undergraduate research—providing more opportunities for student learning and more career opportunities upon graduation," said Glena Temple, biology, who wrote the grant with visionary support from Mary Hassinger, dean of the School of Letters and Sciences, and involvement of the natural sciences faculty.
Viterbo University has offered strong programs in biology, chemistry, and physics for a number of years, with the chemistry major certified by the American Chemical Society since 1994. However, the traditional lines between the two departments have been disappearing as the science community has realized the best preparation for scientists involves interrelatedness of the fields. In response, Viterbo has developed a plan, which caught the attention of AAAS and Merck, to bridge the gap between biology, chemistry, and physics through an interdisciplinary approach to undergraduate science education.

The plan, which will be funded in part by the grant, includes:

  • Reorganization of separate biology, chemistry, and physics departments into one natural sciences division.
  • Construction of the new Center for Ethics, Science, & Technology, which allows the science disciplines to intermingle in research, teaching, and faculty office space. The design fosters increased communication between faculty and students of different science majors.
  • Development of an interdisciplinary curriculum in which learning outcomes for each science complement one another.
  • Development of an integrated senior capstone course.
  • Strengthening of the research component for student studies. With adequate space and funding, faculty-directed student research opportunities on campus will expand.
  • Development of a certificate program in biotechnology that links the skills and concepts of biology and chemistry and will be available to any science major.

In addition, the natural sciences division has plans to establish a seminar series to bring regional science experts to campus; a journal club to foster student interest in published research material; and a student research symposium, which will allow students a forum to present their poster or oral presentations on summer research projects.

The goals of the Merck/AAAS Undergraduate Science Research program aims to enhance undergraduate education through direct, interdisciplinary biology/chemistry research experience; encourage students to pursue graduate studies in the sciences; and foster undergraduate programs that bridge biology and chemistry departments. It is funded by The Merck Company Foundation and administered by AAAS.

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