Keweenaw's Huron Bay in the winter
Keweenaw's Huron Bay in the winter

New Major and Minor Programs

For several decades, the Department of Biological Sciences has offered four strong undergraduate major programs, namely, Biological Sciences (SBL), Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (SMBB), Bioinformatics (SBI), and Medical (Clinical) Lab Sciences (SML). We also offer four graduate programs leading to M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. Until recently, the SBL major had six concentrations: General biology (SBL1), Molecular Biology and Biochemistry (SBL2), Ecology (SBL3), Microbiology (SBL4), Pre-Professional Health (SBL5), Plant Sciences (SBL6), Secondary Education (SBL7), Fish Biology (SBL8). Of these, SBL2, SBL4, SBL6, SBL7, and SBL8 are no longer offered due to a variety of reasons. However, even though a pre-professional health concentration option (SBL5) has historically had the highest enrollment in the department and continued to attract students interested in medical professions, it was overly structured towards medical and professional health school requirements alone, and students interested in human biology without a desire to follow this medical pathway had fewer options.  We wanted to build upon Michigan Tech’s continued investment in human health sciences education and research to improve the quality and enrollment of our pre-professional concentration option. Therefore, we restructured the existing SBL5 concentration into a stand-alone Human Biology major (SHB) that would attract students who are broadly interested in Human Biology, including those who want to pursue health professions as well as those who wish to pursue careers in industry, academia, or graduate degrees in the Biological Sciences, health or other areas.  We expect this program to better prepare students for continued education or employment with a focus on real-world experiences and skills through a series of capstone options. This proposal was approved in 2019 by the University Senate, and we have started enrolling students in this major from Fall 2020 onwards. Currently, in Fall 2022, we have 56 students enrolled in this major.     

The Department of Biological Sciences also has a strong reputation for training students in biology with a solid ecological focus through our existing Biology B.S. with a concentration in Ecology (SBL3). While the SBL3 degree concentration well-served students interested in achieving a broad education in Biology with some more focused training in Ecology, the intense core in general natural science and general biology left little room in the student’s degree training to deeply engage in coursework training in advanced Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Moreover, limited required experiential learning placed these students at a partial disadvantage when they sought opportunities after they completed their undergraduate training. Therefore, we proposed a stand-alone Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) major in 2019.  The new EEB major still provided core training in the basic sciences of biology, chemistry, and mathematics, which are essential for an integrative understanding of ecological and evolutionary patterns and processes, but it also provides opportunities for students to specialize in their training in molecular biology, genetics, field techniques, analysis of ecological and evolutionary data, and countless other topics through experiences in the classroom, laboratory, and field. This program was approved by the University Senate in 2019, and we started accepting students in this major from the Fall of 2020 onwards. Currently, in Fall 2022, we have over 30 students taking this major.

In 2019, we also proposed a minor in Pre-Health Professions offered through the Department of Biological Sciences intended for Michigan Tech students who are interested in graduate health programs, including medical, physician assistant, dental, veterinary, pharmacy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, podiatry, and chiropractic schools. Because graduate health programs do not require one specific major, students can choose any university major. Therefore, this minor is designed to complement any major a student chooses to better prepare them for applying to their desired graduate health program. This minor was approved and has been accepting students since the fall of 2020. Currently, we have 86 students taking this minor.

In 2021, we changed the name of our Bioinformatics major (SBI) program to Computational Biology (SCB). The rationale behind this change was to better educate students at the interface of biological sciences, computer science, and math, including applications in genomics, molecular biology, ecology, evolutionary biology, and human health. The name Computational Biology also accurately describes how computational approaches are being employed across biology and describes the core concepts of the degree program, which extend beyond the application of computational approaches to molecular biology. This name change would be more recognizable to prospective students and employers. We hope that this name change builds off the University’s investments in the Tech Forward Initiative in the Data Revolution and Sensing and allows for further integration with the College of Computing. This name change proposal was recently approved, and students have started enrolling in SCB major from Fall 2022 onwards.

Woman using a tool in a lab

Alumni and Friends of the Biological Sciences inducted into the CSA Academy

Steve Yang
Steve Yang

Dr. Steve Yang was inducted into the CSA Academy of Sciences and Arts on September 15, 2022. Dr. Yang is the Co-CEO of WuXi AppTec and a member of its board of directors. He is also WuXi AppTec’s Head of WuXi Biology and Head of WuXi Testing businesses. His responsibilities include the management of multiple business units and commercial operations. WuXi AppTec provides a broad portfolio of R&D and manufacturing services that enable companies in the pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device industries worldwide to advance discoveries and deliver groundbreaking treatments to patients.  Dr. Yang received his Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Chemistry from the University of California, San Francisco. He started his undergraduate study at Fudan University, China, and completed his B.S. degree (Summa Cum Laude) in biological sciences from Michigan Technological University. He co-founded the BayHelix Group, a non-profit global professional organization of Chinese life science business leaders, and served as the board’s chairman for two terms. We are proud of all of Steve’s achievements and welcome him back to engage with our students and curriculum improvements.

James Spain
James Spain

Professor James D. Spain, PhD. was inducted into the College of Sciences and Arts Academy on October 7, 2021. He is one of the founding members of the Department of Biological Sciences at Michigan Technological University who started our department in 1962 and also served as the first department head from 1962 to 1968. Dr. Spain played a major role in developing a strong curriculum in biological sciences at the B.S. level and helped offer M.S. and Ph.D. programs in biological sciences in 1965 and 1970, respectively. He also initiated interdisciplinary research in aquatic ecology. Dr. Spain was actively engaged in research in biochemistry with a special emphasis on chemical carcinogenesis. He was passionate about developing tools and offering courses in “Computer Applications in Biology”. He received Michigan Tech’s highly prestigious Faculty Research Award in 1965. Dr. Spain took early retirement from Michigan Tech in 1984 and continued his career, first at Eastern Michigan University as their director of Instructional Computing and later at Clemson University in South Carolina, where he directed the Chemistry Learning Center. Dr. Spain retired in 2010 and returned to the Copper Country. He recently published his autobiography, Perusing for Pioneer Pathways. We are grateful to Professor Spain for all that he has done for our department, and the seed he planted in 1962 has now grown into this majestic tree that has witnessed the graduation of thousands of students since 1963.

Anatomage Table: A New Educational Tool, is a true game changer for our students

We are very happy to report that with the generous support from our alumni and friends, we were able to purchase a virtual human cadaver dissection table from Anatomage. The table cost was about $72,000. Our Anatomy and Physiology students have been excited to use this equipment since the Fall of 2021, and this table is slated to be moved to our new H-STEM building when that project is complete.

Students being taught at an interactive table
Travis Wakeham teaching students about the Anatomage Table

This 7.2-foot-long iPad-like table allows eight students to simultaneously learn and experience medical sciences in a way they have never done before! We would greatly appreciate it if you could contribute to Anatomage Michigan Tech Fund to purchase a second Anatomage table that would allow instruction 16 students at the same time. We are already halfway there!

The Anatomage Table is one of the most technologically advanced virtual dissection platforms for anatomy education. The Table's interactive, life-sized display is now available for our undergraduate students to utilize within the Anatomy & Physiology Teaching Laboratory! The Table has expanded our ability to provide ultra-high-quality visualization for students to view photorealistic anatomical structures. Students have been amazed by the level of detail within each virtual human cadaver and the value of comparing models and textbook images to actual medical images. The Table includes a robust library of histology scans, CT and MRI scans, clinical cases, and physiology simulations.

MLS Teaching Lab Improvements

Student with a pipette for experiment
Student performing an MLS lab experiment

Updates to the teaching lab ensure that our students learn the latest clinical techniques. We recently implemented the Ortho gel card system for our immunohematology students, which gives our students experience using the technology on campus before entering their blood bank rotation. We also implemented a Laboratory Information System (LIS) in our student teaching lab. The LIS is interfaced with our hematology analyzer and allows students to order tests, print labels, and see results cross over just like they would in a real lab. In phlebotomy, they utilize the LIS to practice the prevention of pre-analytical errors and enhance the in-lab experience. The addition of a new phlebotomy station and more fake arms to practice blood drawing techniques ensures our students get plenty of practice. We also added additional Cliniteks to process urine specimens in our urinalysis class.

Continued Student Success

Thanks to our faculty and staff, Michigan Tech’s MLS program continues to be phenomenal. Our students see 100% job placement after completing a clinical practicum. You can see our student success stories on Instagram @michigantech_mls and Facebook @MichiganTechMLS.

There is a critical national shortage of medical laboratory scientists. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be 25,900 available jobs in the field every year during the next decade—a growth rate 3 percent higher than other occupations. We are helping to fill the gap!

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.