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Molecular & Biomedical Sciences

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Undergraduate Programs - Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes:    Assessment of Molecular & Biomedical Sciences graduates with BS degrees in Biochemistry, Microbiology and Molecular and Cellular Biology

Overview of MBS

The Department of Molecular and Biomedical Sciences (MBS) is fully committed to offering a high quality educational experience to Biochemistry (BCH), Microbiology (MCB), and Molecular Biology (MLB) majors, and students who enroll in the various service courses offered by the Department.  The BCH, MCB, and MLB degree programs will prepare graduates for employment with biotechnology companies, government agencies and research institutes in Maine, as well as prepare students to be competitive in national and international job markets.  The content of the curricula shall be of such rigor that graduates will have the opportunity to be well prepared to pursue higher degrees after graduation. Service courses focus on the Department’s strengths in microbiology and biochemistry and are designed to add educational breadth to students from all majors on campus.

The Departments of Molecular and Biomedical Sciences (MBS)  offers both undergraduate and graduate degree programs  relevant to the core of the basic biomedical science, with BS degrees in Biochemistry (BCH), Microbiology (MCB) and Molecular and Cellular Biology (MLB); MS degrees in Biochemistry or Microbiology and two doctoral degrees in either Biochemistry and Molecular Biology or Microbiology.  In 2007, MBS undergraduate enrollment is 135.  MBS awarded 28 BS degrees during the full academic year 2006-2007. It must also be noted that several service-type courses represent a significant number of student credit hours taught by MBS.  In 2008, MBS will consists of eleven tenure‑track faculty providing 4.5 FTE in teaching and 6.5 FTE in research.

The Department has an outstanding faculty that produces highly sought after undergraduate and graduate students, and that performs research that is relevant to State, national and international scientific issues. Undergraduates and graduate students have received prestigious awards within the University of Maine as well as regionally and nationally. Each of our undergraduates goes on to accept a position of his or her choosing in the research sector, or enters professional school or graduate programs to further his or her education. Graduate students have gone on to prestigious doctoral programs, to postdoctoral research positions, to professional schools, and to positions in the biotechnology industry. Members of the faculty have received prestigious awards for teaching and research at the University and nationally.

Program Learning Goals for all degree programs in the unit

Each of the MBS degree programs, Molecular and Biomedical Sciences will use the four assessment goals presented below.

1. Core knowledge goals:

An understanding of the fundamentals of chemistry and biology and the key principles of biochemistry, microbiology and molecular biology (for the individual degree programs). These include good quantitative skills and the ability to use computers as information and research tools.

2. Problem solving and analytical thinking

a.  the ability to dissect a problem into its key features by thinking in an integrated manner and to looking at problems from different perspectives

b.  the ability to interpret experimental data and to identify consistent and inconsistent components

c.  awareness of ethical issues in the molecular life sciences.

3. Laboratory and Research skills

a.  awareness of the major issues at the forefront of the discipline

b.  the ability to design experiments and to understand the limitations of the experimental approach

c.  good quantitative skills such as the ability to accurately and reproducibly prepare reagents for experiments and process raw data

d.  the ability to work safely and effectively in the laboratory

e.  the ability to collaborate with other researchers

4.  Literature and communication skills

a.  awareness of the major issues at the forefront of the discipline

b.  the ability to assess primary papers critically

c.  the ability to use oral, written and visual presentations to present their work to both a science literate and general audience

Evidence that curricula are periodically reviewed and revised as needed to maintain currency in the discipline and program quality

The Department holds an annual meeting to specifically review the curriculum for each of its degree programs.  Program review committees presents recommendations based on their assessments of the undergraduate capstone student reports and presentations which are held each spring as part of the undergraduate seminar program. (Students that graduate in the summer or fall are assessed at those times.)  Meeting minutes and committee reports are kept to record program development.

A matrix for each degree program showing the relationship of courses in the program to the program’s student learning outcomes and, if applicable, to general education student learning outcomes.

The primary learning outcomes are two types:

1.) For those choosing professional school, the students will be competitive with other BS graduates from peer or better institutions. Students will have the requisite background knowledge in the major and study/time management skills to effectively compete with students from similar programs at other institutions for acceptance to and success in professional programs (such as doctoral (PhD) medical, dental, pharmacy, veterinary, etc.).

2.) For those students electing a research position in an academic setting or in industry (such as biotech, pharma, etc), the students will be capable of beginning bench‑level research positions in with minimal additional training. They will have fundamental skills including knowledge of some specific techniques and general skills of data collection, data analysis, principles of experimental design and implementation, be familiar with general lab maintenance, day‑to‑day operations of a research laboratory, competency in reporting (written and oral) to supervisory personnel, and training in critical experimental thinking. The students will have mastered an assortment of routine mathematical laboratory calculations.

Key/Critical skills

Requisite Knowledge for Competency in the Major

All majors should have an understanding of the Scientific Method as well as a general understanding of: Basic Biochemistry concepts, such as; the four basic biomolecules (nucleic acids, protein, carbohydrates and lipids), understanding of key metabolic pathways and energy balance, enzyme function and analysis, protein structure and function.  Basic microbiology concepts, such as; Koch’s postulates, culture conditions for bacteria and viruses, identification, morphology and cytology of bacteria and viruses, quantitation of virus/bacteria by plaque assay, understanding of general disease processes and mechanisms of pathogenesis and basic immunology concepts.  Basic Molecular and Cellular Biology concepts, such as; the Central Dogma of DNA-RNA-Protein and the processes involved there-in, basic DNA/RNA structure function, basic genetics, cellular structure and organelle function, cell cycle and cell division.

Likewise all majors should be familiar with fundamental Laboratory Research Skills. These would include but are not limited to: maintaining bacteria and cells in culture, propagation of viruses, generation and evaluation of growth curves, aseptic technique, basic molecular biology techniques (e.g. RNA/DNA/plasmid extraction, PCR, agarose gel electrophoresis), basic diagnostic procedures, differential biochemical and serological tests for bacteria and viruses, basic microscopy techniques, understanding of the basic biochemical assays for proteins/enzymes and knowledge of basic protein purification methods and analysis.

Understanding experimental design and possessing critical thinking skills are essential for the experimental sciences. Developing (acquiring) these skills involves the ability to 1) understand, explain, and critically evaluate scientific research articles; 2) develop logical steps in a series of experiments; and 3) understand the relevance and significance of results.  Data Analysis and key Mathematical Skills are also required.  Students should be capable of interpreting and producing from data informative graphs, images of electrophoresis results such as agarose gels, SDS-PAGE and Western blots, determine constants from growth curves, measure numbers of virus or bacteria, understand basic proportional analysis with units to calculate how to prepare chemical solutions and reagents, calculate concentrations from absorption readings, e.g., of proteins, DNA, RNA, etc., and rates of enzymatic reactions.

Written and Oral Presentations are also important aspects for these fields.  Students should know how to organize experimental data into a logical story, develop coherent, logical descriptions and explanations, speak clearly and effectively.  They should also be proficient in writing a scientific paper including working through a draft to incorporate suggestions/changes and produce a final paper following a given journal format.

Assessment and Follow-up

These are assessed for all of our majors primarily through two mechanisms.

1.  The Department required Capstone class of Undergraduate Research (BMB 491):  Each student works for six credits (often over two semesters) in the laboratory of a research faculty member.  The expected effort is generally ~10 hrs/week for 3 cr within a semester.  One-on-one mentoring by the faculty member as well as senior members of the faculty member’s research group (graduate students, post-doctorates, technicians) provides excellent opportunity to determine the skill level of the student in the critical areas #1, #2 and #3 listed above.  Students are also required to complete a written report of their research at its conclusion.  This report allows faculty to evaluate the student’s critical thinking, data analysis and writing skills (again #1, #2 and part of #4 above) though this insight is often evident from day-to-day interactions throughout the project.

2.  The requirement for all majors of Undergraduate Seminar (BMB 580 or BMB 582):  This class requires critical reading of the primary literature often focused on a topic chosen by the instructor, developing an oral presentation (#4) and participation in discussions about each week’s reading and seminar.  Presentations cover a wide variety of appropriate topics and often in the Spring semester may include presentation of the student’s undergraduate research project. An additional component to seminar is critical evaluation of the presentations of others.  Students are required to provide written critiques on their own presentation and on one or more of their fellow students.  This exercise requires the students to critically observe a presentation in order to discover and learn what makes a successful presentation.

Program skills assessment will take place at a May faculty meeting where the success or failure of providing the key skills listed above is discussed. Adjustments or modification required to strengthen a weakness is generally accomplished through changes made within and/or to the curriculum.  For example, in 2004 a requirement for Statistics for all majors was added to strengthen data analysis skills of students.  In 2005, Physical Biochemistry (BMB 467) was returned as a requirement for Biochemistry majors to reinforce this aspect of the major.  Two topics are currently under consideration.  One is to require all majors (currently Microbiology majors are only required to take 1 cr.) to take 2 cr of Undergraduate Seminar to further strengthen oral presentation for those students.  The second is to have the final report for the Capstone Undergraduate Research be either a written report or an oral presentation.  In addition, each year instructors adjust their lecture or laboratory course to emphasize skills that may have been weakly acquired in a previous year.

Outcomes & Assessment:   Data Assessment Plan

1.  The Capstone requirement of Undergraduate Research (BMB 491) will be used to summarize the laboratory and analytical skills acquired by our graduates.   Each faculty member mentoring an undergraduate in BMB 491 will complete a “Critical Thinking Assessment Form” (included below) to determine the degree to which their students fulfilled Program Learning Goals 1-3 (outline above).  The department graduates 20-30 majors each year, thus the assessments should provide ample data and comments from the faculty

Assessment results each year will be tabulated and analyzed for trends in our strengths and weaknesses in establishing our Program Learning Goals.  Results will be discussed and plans formulated to address needs at the May faculty meeting on the curriculum assessment.

2.  Undergraduate Seminar (BMB 580 or BMB 582) as well as writing intensive courses (BMB 460, 464, 490) will provide evaluation of students’ oral and/or writing skills.  Faculty will complete a “Presentation Assessment Form” (included below) to summarize the degree to which their students fulfilled Program Learning Goal 4 (outlined above).

Assessment results will be tabulated and analyzed for trends in our strengths and weaknesses in establishing our Program Learning Goals.  Results will be discussed and plans formulated to address needs at the May faculty meeting on the curriculum assessment.

3. Graduating seniors will be asked to complete a postgraduation Program Learning Goals assessment form similar to that completed by the faculty.  The emphasis will be on how well they feel that they grasp the program’s key Learning Goals.

4. Resulting data from the Assessment forms will be discussed at a May faculty meeting.

In general average scores of 0-1 will prompt discussion of how to improve that particular area; scores of 1-2 will generally be viewed as acceptable, but the data will be analyzed closely for trends or groupings.

Results for each year, along with an action plan, will be saved to provide feedback data for program assessment strategies.

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Contact Information

Molecular & Biomedical Sciences
5735 Hitchner Hall
Orono, Maine 04469-5735
Phone: (207) 581-2810 | Fax: (207) 581-2801E-mail: Chair:
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469
A Member of the University of Maine System