USF Sarasota-Manatee breaks ground for labs at Mote Marine

eearl@bradenton.comMarch 29, 2013 

SARASOTA-- University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee students will be able to work alongside professional scientists starting this fall at Mote Marine Laboratories.

The university has broken ground for its new biology labs at Mote, expanding the school's research capabilities. When the labs open this fall, USF will begin offering biology coursework and pre-requisites for a biology degree that are "perfectly transferable" to other institutions, says Jane Rose, the dean of arts and sciences.

The university is in the middle of the two-year process of having a new degree approved. Rose said they are on track to have the degree ready in the fall of 2014.

"Starting a new degree program has an elaborate approval process," Rose said.

Students will not be able to officially declare a biology major until fall 2014, but they can start earning credits toward the degree when the labs open this year.

"The scientists at Mote are extremely enthusiastic about working with the students," said Michael Crosby, the incoming president of Mote Marine. "This is the beginning of a new era between Mote and an academic institution."

Faculty will be shared between USF Sarasota-Manatee and Mote Marine. In addition, all of the Mote Marine scientists have teaching experience. Crosby says their

research experience makes the difference.

"The scientists will not only teach classes, but they will also make sure the students have hands-on research experience. This is rarely implemented in schools and will provide great experience," Crosby said.

The lab classes will include structured lectures. Students are expected to benefit from the 22 diverse research programs Mote Marine offers.

Crosby held a meeting Thursday with the scientists to discuss including adequate time for students in their schedules.

"They work 60 to 80 hours per week; they are extremely dedicated," Crosby said. "We are working out the details and making sure we get an innovative degree program. The scientists are eager to engage with students and help grow the next generation of ocean literate scientists."

The labs will benefit both incoming freshmen and other undergraduate students who wish to pursue a degree in biology.

The goal of the program is to prepare students to apply for medical schools, various graduate and professional programs, and entry-level laboratory jobs.

While precise courses are still being developed, environmental science and principles of biology courses will be offered in the fall.

USF has had a relationship with Mote Marine since 2009, when then-USF President Judy Genshaft and Mote Marine President/CEO Kumar Mahadevan, who will soon be stepping down, signed a memo of understanding to increase collaboration. In 2012, Arthur Guilford, the regional chancellor at USF Sarasota-Manatee, and Mahadevan expanded the agreement to develop instructional labs on the Mote Marine grounds.

Since 2012, the project has been on a fast track. Rose said the program will start small but has potential to grow rapidly. Once the program is up and running, they will be admitting 50 new biology majors every year.

"Students will be learning from actively researching scientists in small classes," Rose said. "The labs will have a prestigious private school education feel, where students won't feel like just one person in a sea of undergraduates."

In the future, Rose said, students from other local colleges might be able to enroll in the lab classes, if space allows.

"When we develop partnerships with other schools, than arrangements can be made. But for now, the only students in the labs will be USF students enrolled in science courses," Rose said.

USF Sarasota-Manatee is seeking donors to help supply equipment such as microscopes and spectrometers. The university also needs donors for their vision of a "boat to Mote" to bring students, faculty and visitors to the labs.

"Since the classes are on another site, we eventually want to provide a shuttle for transportation between the university and Mote," Rose said. This could be by either land or water, and could also be open to the public.

Right now, she said, the university is primarily focused on opening the lab and getting the stamp of approval for the biology degree.

"This program is just getting started, but we anticipate a demand and support that would enable expansion," Rose said.

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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