Eric Hall, associate professor of biology and director of health-related programs, visits the new lab at Fogarty Life Science.
“Math and science train your brain,” said Lisa Humphreys, RIC professor of mathematics and director of the graduate mathematics program. Humphreys, along with Professor of Chemistry Karen Almeida ’94, Associate Professor of Biology and Director of Health-Related Programs Eric Hall ’91 and Professor of Biology and Biology Department Chair Lloyd Matsumoto, recently reflected on the new Exploring Science/Math option offered through the new Exploring Majors initiative.
“Problem solving, creativity, analytical thinking and quantitative reasoning” are the skills acquired by students with math and science degrees, said Humphreys, who has taught at RIC for 21 years. It is the combination of all of these things that motivates companies to hire, she said, along with the ability to work in teams and communicate well with others.
As freshmen explore the Science/Math Rhode Map in their first three semesters, Humphreys encourages them to consider declaring more than one major. Combining computer science with biology or chemistry, for example, may help graduates stand out in the job market, she said. Humphreys said RIC makes pursuing multiple majors manageable because the education is affordable.
“I think RIC is the secret jewel of Rhode Island,” Humphreys said. “It is a great bargain for phenomenal teaching.” She believes that students at RIC also benefit from the small classroom sizes, which promote a “friendly” atmosphere where students regularly interact with faculty.
Almeida, who joined RIC’s physical sciences department 10 years ago, credits RIC’s “personalized education in a small-classroom setting” with her own academic success. She said students interested in pursuing their degrees in chemistry at RIC could expect “authentic research experiences and faculty-mentored research opportunities.” Chemistry provides a solid conceptual understanding, which allows students to expand into many other disciplines as far reaching as “business and law,” she said.
The Exploring Math/Science option is a good opportunity for RIC students to “test their interests and abilities while building the foundation for the math and science majors,” said Almeida. Chemistry majors leave RIC understanding complex and quantitative topics, she added, which allows them “access to high-paying professions” after graduation.
According to Hall, who joined RIC’s biology department in 1999, frequent interactions between students and highly experienced professors in RIC’s biology department help graduates have “great success” in the world, from gaining acceptance to leading graduate degree programs to establishing careers straight out of school.
“We try very hard in biology to create that small-school atmosphere so that students have direct contact,” he said. “On any given day during the semester, students are talking to faculty in the student lounge.”
Since his time as a RIC undergraduate, Hall said that the biology curriculum has deepened and broadened due to the latest developments in topics like molecular biology and DNA transcription. Communication skills are also taught now, he said, to help RIC biology graduates share their knowledge effectively.
“We’re very proud of how we prepare our students,” said Hall.
“There are so many paths you can follow” with a degree in biology, said Matsumoto, who has taught courses in RIC’s biology department for 32 years. “It’s really an unlimited field.” One student Matsumoto taught and mentored while at RIC is now a chief medical examiner in Hawaii. “We have so many students in medical school I cannot keep track,” he said.
Matsumoto’s advice to students just starting out and who are unsure of their major: “The most important thing is to major in something that you love from your heart; that’s where the strongest passion comes from.” He added, “Then you have to give your whole self to that effort. You can’t do anything, especially biology, halfway.”
Matsumoto experienced changing from one major to another in his undergraduate years. He intended to focus on American literature until he “ran across a biology professor who got me hooked on research.”
When asked how his teacher converted him to a career in science, he said, “The subject was so interesting, and he showed me how this research fit into the real world.” Matsumoto applies the same teaching philosophy to his own biology classes.
Matsumoto's advises students who are exploring "to give biology a chance; the subject may have to grow on you, but it will certainly kindle your interest – and that’s important.”
“Once you love [a subject] and become passionate about it, you can achieve anything,” he said.