The number of Wingate University students majoring in biology has grown considerably over the past decade. But not all of those students will go on to medical school or become research scientists.
Wingate is offering a new biology-related major and two new concentrations within the biology major to cater to students’ wide variety of career goals and to help fill some needs in the community.
This semester, Wingate introduced to its academic catalog biochemistry, biology with a concentration in medical laboratory science, and environmental biology with a concentration in public health.
“Our curriculum was really set up as a premed curriculum,” says Dr. Erika Niland, chair of the biology department. “It just didn’t serve the greater majority of our students. We wanted to change it to be more flexible.”
In a pandemic-conscious world, figuring out how chemical processes affect the body is hugely important. Wingate’s new biochemistry major is poised to help students enter any number of professions that do just that.
The major launched this fall, and eight students are already enrolled.
Students who graduate with a biochemistry degree can go on to a number of jobs and graduate programs: medical school, dental school, pharmaceutical research, biochemical engineering, laboratory science – even patent law and science writing.
One reason the major was introduced at Wingate was to make students more marketable for medical school.
“The evolution of medical school makes it pretty competitive,” Niland says. “A lot of the students applying to medical school are biochemistry majors. It just sort of helps our students in the application process and to be better prepared.”
Biology with a concentration in medical laboratory science
Wingate has teamed up with the Carolinas College of Health Sciences (CCHS) to offer biology with a concentration in medical laboratory science (3+1). Students who opt for the new major will study at Wingate for three years before spending their fourth year in CCHS’s medical laboratory science program.
Medical laboratory scientists analyze blood and body-fluid samples at hospitals and report the results to doctors. Once they graduate and pass the certification exam, Wingate students will be able to step into an MLS role without having to take an additional year to complete the program.
At CCHS, students study five disciplines: chemistry, hematology, microbiology, immunology and blood-banking. Once Wingate students start their final year at CCHS, they will spend three trimesters (fall, spring and summer) studying Monday through Friday in classrooms, student labs and clinical settings.
“It’s a very intense year,” says Melissa Jackson, chair of clinical laboratory sciences at CCHS. “When they graduate from this program, they are ready to step in as entry-level medical laboratory scientists working in the healthcare field.”
Environmental biology with a concentration in public health
The restaurants you eat in, the daycare where your child is cared for, your parents’ or grandparents’ nursing home – all of these businesses need to be safe and clean. Environmental health specialists, commonly known as health inspectors, make sure they are, but a shortage of inspectors threatens the health of everyone.
Wingate is stepping in to help fill the void while giving biology majors another potential career avenue to explore. Graduates can move into a number of fields, but it is especially helpful in filling the many vacancies for environmental health specialists across the state.
“As North Carolina has grown, every county is struggling to get qualified environmental health specialists on board,” says Steve Eaton, director of the Gaston County Department of Health and Human Services. “If you’re a licensed environmental health specialist, you can move to any county in North Carolina.”
Environmental health specialists work primarily in one of two key areas: water quality and wastewater inspection; and FLISP (food, lodging, institutions and swimming pools). Environmental health specialists conduct inspections of well sites and septic tanks; determine sanitation grades; inspect restaurants, child-care institutions, nursing homes, swimming pools and water parks; participate in epidemiological investigations; and provide educational programming to the public, such as in schools. These positions generally appeal to people who like to work in the field.
Wingate students who major in environmental biology with a concentration in public health will complete the required internship and take their certification test before they graduate, so they can hit the ground running. Previously, biology majors would need to wait up to a year after earning their bachelor’s degree to become qualified environmental health specialists. Wingate will work with the State of North Carolina and local governments to arrange internships.
Environmental health specialists are currently needed throughout the state, and the position is expected to become even more in demand in the coming years. According to the jobs website Zippia, there are 1,895 EHS job openings in North Carolina right now, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that employment of environmental scientists and specialists, including health specialists, is expected to grow 6 percent over the next decade, double the average rate of all occupations.
The three new biology pathways open a number of new doors for Wingate students.
“We have students who want to go to med school, want to go to graduate school, want to get a job right out of school, possibly even go teach,” Niland says. “To have all of those options to explore I think is beneficial, because students don’t always know what they want to do. They have an idea, but having these different concentrations and majors, they can at least make that decision by their sophomore year to determine which is best for them and which career might align best with their personality and their pursuits.”