CAS Unveils the Department of Molecular and Microbiology

Posted: March 21, 2003 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Patty Snellings

With the Board of Visitors’ approval yesterday, the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) establishes a new Department of Molecular and Microbiology (MMB). The existing Department of Biology will close, and its faculty members will choose between joining the new department or moving to the Department of Environmental Science and Policy (ESP), depending on their individual areas of expertise.

As part of an ongoing reorganization of the life sciences initiative at George Mason, this action recognizes the university’s two areas of strength in biology–molecular/cellular/microbial and ecology/conservation/environmental. “There is never a clear division between disciplines,” says CAS Dean Daniele Struppa, “everything always needs everything else. But we feel this division is the appropriate one for us.”

The new department houses the undergraduate and graduate programs in biology, the doctoral program in biosciences (with concentrations being moved to appropriate departments), and the proposed graduate and doctoral programs in biodefense. A recently approved undergraduate program in earth sciences, an undergraduate program in geology, and graduate and doctoral programs in environmental science are located in ESP. Efforts are underway to create new degree programs and concentrations in both departments.

According to Dee Ann Holisky, CAS associate dean for academic programs, the transition will be seamless for students. “We are closing a department but not a degree program,” she explains. “With this new thrust, we may develop new things and we may change the curriculum over time, but current students won’t be affected negatively.”

Research efforts will be streamlined and enhanced under the new organization, says Struppa, who points out that bioscience research is growing at a phenomenal pace and soon will be one of the highest-funded areas of research at the university. “By choosing between MMB or ESP, faculty members can belong to the unit that does exactly the kind of research they are doing.”

Vikas Chandhoke, CAS associate dean for research, says this new direction for the university’s life sciences initiative “will redefine how we are doing science.” He explains that teams of scientists, which may include MMB researchers as well as clinicians or scientists from medical or corporate partners, will work together to address complex, clinically relative problems. “We will use a research model that includes elements of clinical research, biological investigation, and large-scale data analysis.”

Until plans for permanent leadership are finalized, Chandhoke also serves as interim chair of MMB. Chris Jones continues as chair of ESP.

Struppa expects the next phase of the reorganization to be in place by next spring. “I’ve met with my science chairs and tasked them with looking into the concepts outlined in BIO2010: Transforming Undergraduate Education for Future Research Biologists, a book published recently by the National Academy of Sciences,” he says. “Over the next year, we will develop innovative life sciences curricula that offer our students competitive academic challenges while increasing George Mason’s visibility as a major research institution.”

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