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President Donald R. Eastman III

Strategic Planning Recommendations

Addendum 3: Center for Integrative Biology and Biomedicine

A. Introduction and Rationale.
The discovery of the structure and function of DNA and, more recently, the decoding of the human genome, are expected to have profound impacts on every aspect of society in the 21st century, perhaps even greater than the technological changes of the 20th century. This revolution in Biomedicine challenges us with previously unimagined ethical, legislative, cultural and socio-economic decisions related to the use of human genetic information and genetically modified agricultural products, the utility of cloning and embryonic stem cells, and defense against biological warfare. This new technology is with us; thus, we all need to understand it and to manage it thoughtfully.

We can now begin to predict and manipulate the complexity of living things at all levels, from molecules to organisms to entire ecosystems. While the study of life has been compartmentalized traditionally into discrete subdisciplines (ecology, microbiology, etc.), modern biological problem-solving incorporates research strategies from multiple scientific fields, including the physical and quantitative sciences. Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly clear that broader insight is now required beyond traditional biology, for example, from social scientists (sociologists and psychologists), in order to tackle difficult questions about complex systems that span the hierarchy of biological organization, such as global conservation, restoration and sustainability. Some of the most exciting discoveries about life are being made at the interfaces between fields, (e.g., muscle physiology and physics, ecology and animal behavior) where collaborative and complementary methodologies are employed. The application of these emerging new paradigms to biological problems is becoming known as Integrative Biology.

To reflect the transformations in biology, the nature of biology education must also change. According to the National Research Council (2003), it is imperative that undergraduate biology education become a much more interdisciplinary enterprise, with a strong experiential component, in order to most effectively teach our students the flexible and integrated thinking required of life scientists in the 21st century. Our biology and pre-med majors must be taught a new way of approaching questions in biology and be equipped with the skills to think creatively about their solutions. As a liberal arts college, we also have an obligation to educate all of our students about the implications of the new technologies, to foster responsible scientists and informed citizens. We propose to create a Center for Integrative Biology and Biomedicine that will dramatically revise teaching and learning in the biological sciences at Eckerd College.

B. Internal Strengths.
Biology and Pre-Med together comprise the second largest (declared) major after Marine Science at Eckerd College.

The disciplines of psychology, sociology, and anthropology offer, or have expressed an interest in offering, coursework relevant to an Integrative Biology program.

All of Eckerd's Biology faculty engage actively in original research with students, and in the past five years alone have been able to secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in individual grants (via local and national agencies) to support student-faculty research endeavors and provide modern equipment to the biology program.

We have already established links with local parks, hospitals, cancer centers, veterinary practices, wildlife agencies and biomedical research institutes, as well as ecological field projects in Bermuda and South America, for student experiential learning opportunities.

Biology faculty and students already engage in interdisciplinary research projects with faculty and students in other disciplines (e.g. Computer Science, Chemistry, Marine Science).

C. External Opportunities.
There are now significant funding opportunities for this type of curricular reform, and for student-faculty research at primarily undergraduate institutions via NIH, NSF, HHMI, etc.

Other peer institutions have already begun to create interdisciplinary science departments (e.g., Haverford), but there are none at the undergraduate level in the Southeastern US.

The biotechnology industry may soon be the cornerstone industry of Florida's future economic growth. The economic impact of having a world-renowned biomedical research institute (Scripps) in the state is predicted to be $3.2 billion, and generate 30-50,000 jobs, diversifying Florida's economy beyond tourism.

D. Ideas for Implementation.
1)Curricular reform:
Restructure core biology courses to incorporate multiple levels of biological organization (molecular/cellular, organismal, ecological) within each course.

Provide an encounter with cross-disciplinary approaches relevant to the study of life from the social and behavioral sciences (e.g., medical anthropology, animal behavior, bio-psychology, sociology of human health).

As much as possible, teach quantitative (math, computer) and physical science (chemistry, physics) principles in the context of solving biological problems (e.g., bioinformatics, biomechanics, statistics and modeling of biological systems).

Require at least a semester of experiential learning in a lab (on or off campus), field station, clinic, biotech company, public health sector, conservation organization, etc.

Offer interdisciplinary seminars in all four years that train competent and responsible scientists and communicators (e.g. bioethics; communication; academic survivorship).

2) Offer an Integrative Biology track for students interested in understanding biological systems (e.g. whole organisms and their behavior, ecosystems). This track would involve multi-disciplinary electives in the study of life, from physiology to anthropology, from genetics to psychology, for a broad-based foundation. This track would be appropriate for students interested in:
  • health related professions (pre-med, pre-vet, public health);
  • allied careers in human biology (psychology, forensics, social science, political science, law);
  • environmental studies, ecological sustainability;
  • graduate study in subdisciplines such as ecology, behavior or evolution.
3) Offer a Biomedical science track for students interested in the molecular, cellular and genetic basis of life and disease. This track would involve electives in biomedically-oriented topics such as microbiology and immunology, and would be appropriate for students interested in:
  • health related professions (pre-med, pre-vet, public health);
  • careers in the biotechnology or pharmaceutical industry;
  • graduate study in biomedical science fields (e.g. genetics or cancer biology).
  • 4) Expand NAS general education offerings on Science and Society issues (e.g., Preserving the Ecosystems of Florida, Health and the Human Genome). In addition, attract local, state or national experts to give campus-wide lectures for general audiences on recent breakthroughs or timely topics in integrative biology or biomedical science.