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Biochemistry major earns national accreditation

Winthrop recently became the first school in the nation to have their biochemistry department accredited by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB). This means that students who graduate from Winthrop with a biochemistry degree have the chance to have their degree certified by one of the country’s top biochemistry and molecular biology societies.

Dr. Takita Sumter, Dr. Nick Grossoehme and Dr. Jason Hurlbert spent months putting together the different parts of the application to have Winthrop’s program approved through ASBMB, who began their accreditation program this year.

Sumter believes that having a degree that is certified by ASBMB will show that Winthrop biochemistry students have the tools they need to succeed in the field.

“The students who complete this degree program will have a knowledge base that’s been officially recognized by a society that has gone to extensive lengths to agree on some national standards for students completing degrees in biochemistry and molecular biology,” Sumter said.

Being able to prove that students meet these standards will go a long way in helping those students get ahead in their life after graduating from Winthrop.

Science Lab
The biochemistry labs, where students in the biochemistry department complete the lab hours required to gain a degree, which they can now have certified by the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Photo by Kathryn Funderburk • funderburkk@mytjnow.com

“If you get this ASBMB certified degree you can put that on your resume,” Grossoehme said. “So, when you go to apply to jobs or to apply for graduate schools they recognize that you came from this certified program and that you are prepared for that job or school.”

In order for students to get an ASBMB certified degree they must go through the major at an accredited school and then complete an examination written by ASBMB to prove that they have the knowledge that is expected students in the program.

Although the test isn’t mandatory to get a degree in biochemistry at Winthrop, it is in order to get the ASBMB certified degree. Sumter said that they will encourage all biochemistry students to take the exam.

“We’re pretty confident that our students get what they need to do well on the exam,” Sumter said, “so we don’t see any reason why it would be a problem for them to take it.”

Pat Owens, Winthrop chemistry department chair, agreed that students in the program have the necessary tools to succeed and have proven that in past years. According to Owens, Winthrop biochemistry students in past years have done well in the ASBMB undergraduate research poster contest and that all students in the program are actively engaged in research, which is a testament to how hardworking the programs’ students are.

Hard work was also required of Sumter, Grossoehme and Hurlbert as they spent weeks putting together an application that proved that their program and the classes within it met the criteria set by ASBMB. Owens believes this process is important for accreditation but also helped everyone working within the department to assess the program.

“It’s always nice when you have to go through this process, Owens said, “because it forces you to look at what you’re doing and document everything that you’re doing.”

When the department’s accreditation was accepted, the ASBMB review board gave the faculty an evaluation, which included what they thought were the strengths of the program. ASBMB informed the department that they were well organized, showed a clear commitment to diversity, have a talented core faculty and a positive central focus on undergraduate research.

The major also met a number of other standards set by ASBMB including having up-to-date instrumentation in the labs. Hurlbert expressed gratitude towards Winthrop for always providing support in that area for many years.

“The university has invested a lot of money into being certain that we have access to the latest instrumentation,” Hurlbert said. “I think that’s pretty impressive especially in a time when a lot of schools are seeing budget cuts.”

The review board also provided information on what could be improved within Winthrop’s program.

“They identified the weakness of our proposal and curriculum was that our students don’t get enough biology,” Grossoehme said. “We’re going to design a course sequence for our students that includes some more upper level biology courses that will benefit them.”

Those within the biochemistry department will fix weaknesses and continue to strive to better the program in upcoming years. After three years of being certified they will put their program back up for reevaluation and recertification.

Owens stresses the importance of becoming accredited at this time because the world of biochemistry is constantly changing.

“We are at the forefront of major technological breakthroughs and to do that we need an educated workforce,” Owens said. “The curriculum has changed a lot, so having an agency that can have significant influence on undergraduates in terms of what they study and what they do; that’s one way to dramatically improve the undergraduate education from a professional standpoint.”

Not only do students in the biochemistry track receive a degree certified by ASBMB, but their degree will also be certified by the American Chemical Society, who certified Winthrop’s biochemistry program in 2006.

“Students basically get two certifications for the price of one,” Sumter said. “You complete one track and you are certified by both the American Chemical Society and ASBMB. You basically complete one program and you get two flagship societies in chemistry and biochemistry. You really have a pretty strong endorsement of your degree when you walk away.”

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