By JOSHUA STALEY
UMW has approved a new conservation biology major that will be available for declaration beginning the fall semester of 2019.
Conservation biology will give a more personalized experience to students interested in careers in the protection and recovery of endangered species, habitat conservation, conservation biology education, and fisheries and wildlife management. It is also designed to provide graduating students a competitive edge when applying for graduate programs in the field.
“We decided it was time to introduce a program like this given our current strengths,” said Dr. Andrew Dolby, professor of biology. “We’ve had a couple of years now to run our conservation biology class that Dr. Griffith teaches and enrollment has been strong.”
The major will consist of a minimum of 40 required credits, all of which are standard core, biodiversity, ecology, political, economic and cultural perspective courses that are already offered within the biology program.
“In my animal behavior class, conservation is a major theme,” Dolby said. “These species that we talk about are becoming more and more endangered, so the urgency is increasing. Student interest and demand in conservation has been increasing, as well, I think.”
This program will emphasize skills necessary for students to succeed in the conservation biology field. Since Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology is becoming an increasingly popular tool, it has become highly marketable for students entering the workforce. As a result, one GIS course is mandatory for completing the track.
According to Dolby, UMW is a good place to offer this program geographically. Being located directly between Washington D.C. and Richmond, there are various agencies, nonprofits and other organizations centered here that deal specifically with conservation.
“Students will have a lot of opportunity for internships and employments right here in the region,” said Dolby. “From Virginia Department of Game and Fisheries in one direction, to U.S. Fish and Wildlife in the other direction, we’re in a pretty good location.”
This type of specialized program will be unique for a school like UMW. The program will give students the opportunity to complete a major currently only offered by larger universities, such as George Mason University or Virginia Tech, while still giving them the benefits of a small institution.
No new courses will need to be adapted, nor will any new facility need to be hired. The only major impact of adding the major will be requiring the course BIOL 428, conservation biology, and BIOL 231, plant biology, to be offered on a more frequent basis to meet student demand based on the number of individuals enrolled on the track.
The curriculum committee plans to replace the general genetics component with a new genetics course that will focus more on conservation genetics, Dolby said. This course will focus on conservation of small populations and the reasons why a student needs to understand the genetic consequences of small population sizes, gene flow and maintenance of genetic diversity in populations. For now, the committee wants to make sure students at least have the general genetics course on their transcripts.
The news of the new conservation biology major is attracting attention and excitement among students within and outside the biology department.
“I know that if it was offered when I came in, I would have done that,” said senior biology major, Nicole Lamb. “With how urbanized Fredericksburg and NOVA is, we need more students in conservation to protect the wildlife habitat that is left before it is all destroyed in this area. As well as educate more people about plastic consumption and how much the everyday person contributes to waste product.”
While students are eager for the new major to come into effect, some have frustrations about how long it took for the program to diversify.
“It’s disappointing because I want to go to grad school for conservation biology, so I picked up environmental sustainability and climate science to fill the gap,” said junior biology major, Shelby Correia. “It’s a good thing to have now because it’s becoming a much more popular field.”
Dolby and the other faculty involved in the creation of the new major predict that conservation biology as a concentration in the field will be a huge success with current students.
“I hope that it attracts more students that care about conservation and want to implement conservation here on campus,” said Correia.
Additionally, “adding a conservation biology track would likely attract a different and possibly more highly achieving pool of applicants,” Dolby stated in the major proposal.