April 18, 2019  

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Southern Miss Chemistry and Biochemistry Undergraduate Program First Accredited in State

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Hattiesburg native Ellyn Dunbar is majoring in the ACS-Biochemistry emphasis at The University of Southern Mississippi. (Photo by Tara Burcham)

The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at The University of Southern Mississippi has earned accreditation through the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) – indicating that it meets or exceeds professional standards, giving students an advantage with prospective employers and graduate schools.

The department is the first in Mississippi to receive accreditation by ASBMB for its Bachelor of Science in Chemistry emphases in Biochemistry and American Chemical Society-certified Biochemistry.

Accreditation by the ASBMB is a relatively new distinction. In 2010, the ASBMB was awarded a National Science Foundation grant to develop national accreditation standards.

Dr. Sabine Heinhorst, department chair, says faculty are striving to deliver a program of “high academic standards that promotes student success through high-impact experiential learning, intense mentoring and professional preparation.”

“Our curriculum is multi-disciplinary in nature, and designed to provide students with a solid background in mathematics, physics and chemistry that includes hands-on computational modeling and statistics,” she said. “Our three semester biochemistry core courses, which address the ASBMB core concepts, are enriched by biology courses that provide the necessary connections between the life sciences.”

According to the ASBMB, the goals of the Degree Accreditation Program are to provide:

  • A national, outcomes-based mechanism by which students receiving a B.S. or B.A. in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology or closely related majors are given an opportunity to have their degree accredited by the ASBMB. 
  • A vehicle for recognizing undergraduate biochemistry and molecular biology programs whose features and infrastructure fulfill the basic expectations of the ASBMB. 
  • Access to an independently constructed and scored instrument for assessing student achievement and program effectiveness. 

In awarding accreditation, ASBMB noted the following strengths of the USM program:

  • Excellent faculty, both in number and qualification.
  • State of the art teaching and research facilities.
  • A rich array of professional development programs for faculty.
  • Strong evidence of institutional support for diversity.
  • Strong curriculum.

Heinhorst says the program offers rich research experiences for undergraduate students including experiential learning opportunities such as hands-on laboratory experiences and research projects.

“The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry has been committed to promoting undergraduate research for decades,” she said. “The integral role of undergraduate research in our curriculum was formalized in 1992, when a research experience of at least one semester became a graduation requirement for our majors.”

Heinhorst says majors conduct research under the guidance of faculty members. “This allows them to explore the experimental approaches needed to solve actual scientific problems as contributing members of their advisors' research teams.”

Ellyn Dunbar, a native of Hattiesburg, Miss. and a student majoring in the ACS-Biochemistry emphasis, says the accreditation makes a difference in her major.

“It sets me apart from everyone else going into my field. I will be very well prepared going to graduate school in the coming years because of the accreditation,” said Dunbar. “Yes, my program is challenging, but that is what I love about being an ACS-Biochemistry major. I will graduate knowing that I am prepared to be a great scientist.” 

Dean of the College of Science and Technology at Southern Miss, Dr. David T. Hayhurst, enthusiastically supported recognition for the undergraduate program.

“Throughout the years, the Chemistry undergraduate program at The University of Southern Mississippi has gained a reputation among prospective and current students for its academic rigor, emphasis on the participation of undergraduate students in scientific research, and student support infrastructure,” he said.

“Faculty in the department pride themselves on the quality of student mentoring and advising, which translates into effective career placement of their graduates into graduate and professional school programs and jobs.”

Heinhorst says accreditation validates their approach. “We have made a name for ourselves for being a strong academic program, multi-disciplinary in nature while offering strong mentoring relationships.”

Heinhorst says accreditation increases the value of the Southern Miss degree. “This puts us on the map as the only university with an accredited undergraduate program in biochemistry in the state. It further establishes USM as a leader of quality science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.”

For more information about the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, visit http://www.usm.edu/chemistry-biochemistry.