Snapshot in Time: The Changing College of Science
Transformational changes in the College of Science will strengthen research opportunities, but they are going to have an even greater impact on improving student science education, predicts the college's dean, Joaquin Ruiz.
Ruiz is clearly excited about recent developments that better position the college's faculty to offer new degree programs and modernize existing degree programs. Reorganization, he says, is certain to boost several college units in national rankings and strengthen the University's chances for making strategic faculty hires.
As is the case with the University overall, structural changes within the college are an ongoing work in progress.
"People are working really hard to combine our academic strengths into curriculum for our students for the future, and that's going to be very powerful," Ruiz said.
"Changes are going to be fast, but they're going to be constant, so you almost won't realize they're happening. Sort of like aging â€“ it just happens," he quipped.
For those trying to keep up, Ruiz reviewed some highlights of how the college has evolved in the past year:
- Separate departments merged to form the department of chemistry and biochemistry
UA faculty in the departments of chemistry and biochemistry and molecular biophysics overwhelmingly agreed to develop a plan to merge their respective departments, instantly creating one of the nation's most highly ranked chemistry departments.
The new department of chemistry and biochemistry will rank among the top 12 such departments in the nation, as measured by federal research expenditures. There are about 160 doctoral degree-granting chemistry and biochemistry departments in the country, and most of them share a similar model to the new UA department.
The combined departments form a powerful teaching and research enterprise that is UA's third-largest teaching program, behind only mathematics and English.
"There are some synergies that occur now that didn't happen so easily before, so I'm really happy and proud about this merger," Ruiz said.
In other changes:
- The hydrology and water resources department, formerly in the College of Engineering, and the psychology department, formerly in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, joined the College of Science. A new department of neuroscience was created with the core being the Division of Neurobiology, previously one of the Arizona Research Laboratories.
- Three new interdisciplinary schools were created from departments historically housed within the College of Sciences and units from other UA colleges: the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, the School of Mind, Brain and Behavior, and the School of Information Sciences, Technology and Arts.
- The School of Earth and Environmental Sciences consists of five units: hydrology and water resources, geosciences, atmospheric sciences, the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research and the NSF/Arizona Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Lab. Also affiliated with the school are the department of soil, water and environmental science and other units in the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences.
"I think when we can figure out how to measure the strengths of the combined units in this school we're probably going to find it ranks No. 1 in the country," Ruiz said.
"We will be a powerhouse on campus and nationally as UA and federal support focuses more and more on energy, resources, water, climate and the environment," Karl Flessa wrote in the geosciences department newsletter earlier this year. Flessa, head of geosciences, is the school's first director.
The School of Mind, Brain and Behavior is built around a core that comprises the new department of neuroscience, the department of psychology, the department of speech, language and hearing sciences, and the cognitive science program. Departments ranging from philosophy and linguistics to the health sciences are affiliated with school.
This multidisciplinary school represents "a more cogent way to study (minds, brains and behaviors) all the way from molecular biology to ethics," Ruiz said.
"Becoming a new department in the College of Science and joining with our colleagues to develop a new school provide important new opportunities for all of us," said Regents' Professor John Hildebrand, head of the neuroscience department.
The school will provide an umbrella for the graduate interdisciplinary programs in neuroscience as well as cognitive science, and has plans to launch a new undergraduate degree program.
Alfred W. Kaszniak, professor and head of the psychology department, is the school's director.
The School of Information Sciences, Technology and Arts promotes teaching and research in computational methods needed by students and scholars whatever their discipline, Ruiz said.
"A modern university like ours requires a very powerful program that will give future generations of students the tools they need to deal with all the information they have in the Information Age."
Paul Cohen, professor and head of the computer science department, directs this school.
"Computational modeling has been developed for ecology, chemistry and neuroscience and other sciences. However, most fields teach just a narrow slice or view of computation needed in the discipline and do not expose students to a wide range of concepts and techniques," he added.
"SISTA aims to address this situation by making a campuswide collaborative effort to train students in all fields in information science and computational thinking. The school will foster studentsâ€™ awareness of interdisciplinary opportunities beginning in their first year at the UA."