New major, ongoing research helping beef up science program at Wayland

PLAINVIEW – The scientific world is much different now than it was a few decades ago, and that’s no surprise to most people. It’s surely not a surprise to Dr. Adam Reinhart, assistant professor of biological and physical sciences at Wayland Baptist University.

And the changing face of science and science professions over time has changed the way Reinhart and his fellow faculty members at Wayland are approaching the educational role of the department.

The department recently added a new molecular biology major, a move Reinhart said came from looking at class enrollment patterns.

“When we looked at what our students were taking to prepare for medical schools, grad schools or biotech research fields, the classes for the most part satisfied a biology degree but then there were several extras,” he explained. “Most students were biology majors and chemistry minors or double majors in biology and chemistry.”

The molecular biology degree combines the best of those worlds by counting two semesters of biochemistry. The degree plan calls for 20 required hours – including genetics, microbiology, cell and molecular biology and biochemistry I and II – which Reinhart said reflect what students need most for any science-related careers.

The remainder of the 32-hour major is open to the students’ choice and the direction to which they want to focus the degree. Choices include anatomy and physiology, vertebrate biology, developmental biology, parasitology, plant anatomy and physiology, ecology, plant taxonomy and instrumental analysis.

“This gives flexibility for students and a good foundation of courses,” Reinhart said, adding that some students choose the physical therapy focus and take the anatomy courses while others may choose the chemistry research focus and take those classes.

In combination with the research programs instituted a few years back and the summer research program begun last year with a grant from the Welch Foundation, Reinhart said WBU students are graduating with strong preparation for pre-health career programs or research jobs.

This summer’s research students, Vanessa Carey and Marcia Peck, are beginning to work on projects involving medicinal plants and their effects on natural steroid production in cells, a new project headed by Reinhart. Students Philip Carlson and Lori Pretzer are working with Dr. Joel Boyd, assistant professor of chemistry, on some of the same projects started last summer, working with removing nitrogen-containing contaminants from water using titanium dioxide and light to convert it to nitrogen gas.

That hands-on experience is paying off, Reinhart said, in the career choices and advancement of science majors. For instance, two students from last summer are now pursuing graduate degrees in molecular pathology, a field they were introduced to during their research projects.

In general, the science department is turning out graduates who are pursuing a vastly different world of options for careers. Where years ago many biology and chemistry majors might have pursued traditional medical school after Wayland, Reinhart said grads are branching out more now.

“There’s a lot more diversity to what our students want to do now versus 15 years ago,” he said. “Some of these fields didn’t even exist 15 years ago. They’re choosing fields other than traditional medical fields, and for several different reasons.”

Reinhart said physical therapy continues to be a popular career choice, but more students are choosing physician’s assistant training and even law, given the growing issues in biotechnical ethics and law.

Any changes that come down the pike are meant to strengthen the program, obviously, and that can only make the education and preparation for Wayland graduates better. When it comes to the rigorous demands and expectations for pre-health programs, Reinhart said Wayland is able to compete greatly among her peers.

“We do some things differently here that can be real advantages to students,” Reinhart said, mentioning the preparation for the MCAT tests (for entrance to medical schools), interview skills workshops, mock interviews and the like. “We also hold students accountable grade-wise so they’re on target for the program.”

Reinhart said Wayland’s smaller classes mean more hands-on experiences for students with equipment and projects that at some universities may be handled solely by lab assistants. He also touts leadership, internship and missions opportunities as added benefits to studying for pre-health degrees at WBU.

For more information in pre-health science programs at WBU, contact Reinhart at 291-1124 or the office of admissions at (800) 588-1928.