UWL Biochemistry program earns high review as workforce demand increases
UWL’s biochemistry major has received national accreditation at a time when demand for biochemists in Wisconsin is on the rise.
The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development reports growth in biochemistry and biophysics-related employment at the top of chemistry-related occupations. The field is also ranked No. 11 on a list of Wisconsin’s top 25 highest-growth occupations requiring a post-secondary degree. UWL is helping to meet that state demand.
UWL’s biochemistry major was accredited by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) in January. UWL is the first UW System campus with an ASBMB accredited program, according to the ASBMB website.
The committee responsible for the accreditation was impressed with the rich and interdisciplinary curriculum, opportunities for experiential learning, promotion of problem-solving and communication skills, and a large number of graduates over the past five years, among other factors.
UWL students have shown a growing interest in the program since it was approved by the UW System Board of Regents in 2002. Over the past five years, 123 students have graduated with a UWL biochemistry major. The growth is a result of the UWL’s administration’s support and attracting highly-talented faculty and instructional staff over the past seven years, including Basudeb Bhattacharyya, Kelly Gorres, Daniel Grilley and John May, says Todd Weaver, professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
UWL Biochemistry has also earned a positive reputation. UWL biochemistry faculty have served as site visit experts to review the academic programs of other undergraduate biochemistry majors at other Midwestern campuses, says Weaver.
Graduates of the biochemistry program go on to careers as chemists, quality control analysts, managers, healthcare professionals and much more. The majority of majors have found a career in their field after graduation. Among recent graduates, about 54 percent of those who responded to a survey have gone into healthcare-related graduate programs in areas such as medical, dental, pharmacy, physician assistant, chiropractic, and veterinary programs. About 36 percent found jobs in the biochemistry technology companies and another 10 percent have continued in bioscience doctoral programs.
Weaver and Sandy Grunwald, a biochemistry faculty member who is now also interim associate vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, began developing a new biochemistry major in the early 2000s when a demand for trained biological scientists was growing. The UW System Division of Market Research found demand for biological scientists was anticipated to increase by about 36 percent, according to a spring 2002 study. That growth continued to be projected well into the future. Demand for biochemists and biophysicists for the 2014–2024 decade tops the growth rates for chemistry-related occupations in Wisconsin, according to Dennis Winters, chief economist for the Department of Workforce Development, who presented the information to the UW System chemistry faculty in October 2016.
During the biochemistry program’s formative years, UWL also had the faculty expertise and institutional resources to start a strong and interdisciplinary major, notes Weaver. The expertise of Grunwald, as well as Professor Adrienne Loh, Chemistry & Biochemistry, and Scott Cooper, Biology, were instrumental to the development of the program during these years, he says
Over the years, the program has changed to reflect the needs of industry. Most recently, Weaver and Daniel Grilley, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, redesigned the curriculum to implement a research-embedded experience within the CHM 419: Advanced Biochemistry Lab.
“Offering every major the opportunity to have an experiential learning experience using state-of-the-art equipment is essential,” says Bhattacharyya.
The acquisition of the new laboratory equipment was made possible through the Growth, Quality and Access Initiative at UWL. The entire biochemistry staff worked collaboratively during the curricular redesign phase to ensure that the laboratory portions of the major aligned with the needs of the biotechnology industry and the ASBMB student-learning outcomes.
Biochemistry spaces in new Science Labs building will foster collaboration
The Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry is one of many departments that will be moving into the new Science Labs Building, which is currently under construction at the intersection of Badger Street and East Avenue.
Grilley was instrumental during the design phase of the biochemistry teaching and research laboratory spaces. One of the design elements the group is most excited about is a biochemistry research space that will have a shared central resource for solution and sample storage and preparation.
“This aims to stimulate the sharing of ideas among faculty and students which is critical within an interdisciplinary field like biochemistry,” says Grilley.
The space will also house advanced cell culturing facilities allowing biochemistry research programs to tackle new questions. “We are very excited about this shared space and the ability to continue to collaborate in our research,” says May.
The biochemistry lab teaching spaces in the new building will be designed to facilitate the research-embedded experience in the redesigned curriculum. Ample bench-top space for instrumentation and student work will provide the opportunity for each student to work on something slightly different. Also, students and faculty will have easy access to preparatory and cold room spaces from the advanced lab room allowing students to prepare and run additional experiments that are impossible in the current configuration in Cowley Hall, says Gorres.
UWL’s Department of Chemistry was renamed the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry during the 2011-12 academic year. Currently, the department graduates approximately equal numbers of chemistry and biochemistry majors annually. Learn more about the department.
UW System meets workforce needs
The UW System’s academic programs are aligned with projected workforce needs of Wisconsin that require advanced degrees. And more than one-third of the UW System academic programs are STEM or health-related which are also the key occupations projected to be needed for the workforce, according to a UW System report, which was presented to the Board of Regents Thursday, Feb. 2.
Nationally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows significant projected growth for positions in the STEM and healthcare industries from 2014-2024. Examples of that job growth include:
Projected job growth 2014-2024, requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher
- Audiologist 28.6%
- Biomedical engineer 23.1%
- Forensic science technician 26.6%
- Operations research analyst 30.2%
- Nurse practitioner 35.2%
- Personal financial advisor 29.6%
- Physical therapist 34.0%
- Physician assistant 30.4%