By LACIE PIERSON, Jul 25, 2016 – HERALD DISPATCH
HUNTINGTON – The recent restructuring of two colleges at Marshall University was designed to strengthen both colleges and create a more rounded experience for students, according to university officials.
In the past month, university officials announced the reorganization of Marshall’s College of Science as well as the restructuring of some departments in the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine. Both announcements came a few months after administrators moved Marshall’s nationally renowned forensic science graduate program from the medical school, where it was first established in the mid-1990s, to the College of Science, where it’s being integrated with the university’s undergraduate digital forensic science and criminal justice programs.
Leaders of both schools described the reorganization as creating better opportunities for collaboration between departments and cultivating comprehensive interdisciplinary research efforts as well as curricular partnerships.
“We saw the synergy there that the combination of these programs could create something new and powerful, not only for Marshall, but for students interested in those fields,” said Chuck Somerville, dean of the College of Science. “It’s a really interesting overlap of things we can do to strengthen all of those programs at the same time.”
The changes to the College of Science were effective July 1 and included the restructuring of nine academic departments in the college into four schools: The School of Biological and Environmental Sciences, the School of Physical Sciences, the School of Mathematics and Applied Informatics, and the School of Forensic and Criminal Justice Sciences, according to a news release from the university.
During the spring 2016 semester, which ended in May, there were 1,420 students enrolled in the majors affected by the restructuring, but that number doesn’t include the students who took courses within the College of Science as a part of electives for other non-science majors, Somerville said. Overall, he said there were approximately 10,000 enrollments each year in service courses, which are courses that provide support for other majors in the university outside of the college in question.
In each of the new schools, college faculty and staff bring applied, real world experience together with advanced theoreticians, Somerville said.
He gave the example of the new Mathematics and Applied Informatics school.
“We have people who are studying the underlying mathematics of informatics as well as people who are writing commercial software,” he said. “Students can get the benefit of both perspectives and learn both the most advanced science of the field as well as some of the things that it takes to succeed in the market … By having both basic and applied researchers working together, we broaden the scope of students that we can attract to Marshall, and we also broaden the opportunities for students who come here and may not yet know if they want to pursue a higher degree or go directly into the workforce.”
At the medical school, the exit of the forensic science program led to the restructuring of the school’s departments of biochemistry, microbiology, anatomy, pharmacology, physiology, toxicology and animal resources, which resulted in the formation of one biomedical sciences department.
That department is being led by Dr. Gary O. Rankin, who was promoted to vice dean for basic sciences and chairman of the department of biomedical sciences.
The College of Science has 126 faculty and staff in the College of Science, and no employees have been laid off as a result of the restructuring, Somerville said. Somerville did note the responsibilities of four positions that became vacant this year were absorbed by existing faculty and staff in the reorganization process.
The restructuring of the programs changes would be cost neutral to the university and students, said Gayle Ormiston, Marshall’s provost and senior vice president of academic affairs.
Talks of moving the forensic program into the College of Science had taken place for years, but it was the completion of an academic portfolio review of all academic programs at Marshall that helped administrators develop the road map to make it happen, Ormiston said.
The move is also part of an effort to create a more robust undergraduate offering in forensic science as well as offer more slots in the graduate forensic science program, which is one of the most sought after programs of its kind in the United States, Somerville said.
Marshall’s graduate forensic science program was the seventh such program of its kind when it was established in 1994, and its graduates routinely rank No. 1 in the country for its students receiving the highest overall test scores compared to other graduate programs participating in the Forensic Science Assessment Test, a national assessment test offered each year by the American Board of Criminalistics.
In 2015, Marshall Forensic Science graduates ranked No. 1 in the country on the assessment test for the sixth time in the last nine years.
The program originally was established in the medical school as Dr. Terry Fenger, founding director of the program, was a faculty member in the school at the time.
Somerville said he hoped the restructuring also would provide the faculty and facilities support needed to allow the university to accept more students into the graduate program, which currently accepts 20 students each year. He said he hoped to bring that number up to 25 students in the next two or three years without creating an undue burden on faculty or students.