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Board of Higher Education approves new major in chemistry

Posted 10/29/13

Chemistry students working in a lab

Fitchburg State University will launch a new chemistry major in 2014 after a unanimous vote by the state Board of Higher Education. The board met Tuesday, Oct. 29 at Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner.

The new major has been in development for years and was approved by the University’s own board of trustees in April 2013. Students may begin matriculating in the major in fall 2014, and the University will be hiring additional faculty members for the program of study.

“The chemistry major comes at an opportune time for Fitchburg State University, as we near the completion of our $57 million science center construction and renovation,” Fitchburg state President Robert V. Antonucci said. “The new major will allow us to prepare students for a growing and vital sector of the state’s economy.”

“The chemistry degree will be a great complement to the new science center,” said Margaret Hoey, chairman of the University’s Biology/Chemistry Department. “We have planned for this while designing the chemistry labs and the facilities will be able to support the program into the foreseeable future. Chemistry has seen unprecedented interest among all the state universities, and we expect the same kind of growth into the future.”

The new, 55,000-square-foot laboratory wing of the science center opened this summer and work is ahead of schedule for the renovation of the existing Condike Science Building, which will reopen next year.

The University has offered chemistry courses for decades, but it was discontinued as a major in the 1990s. The proposal to reintroduce the major has been years in development by faculty members and administrators and was designed to support the University’s efforts to prepare students to meet the workforce needs of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts employers are looking for well-trained individuals in biotechnology, chemical, and pharmaceutical firms, and as high school teachers. Graduates of Fitchburg State’s new chemistry program will be prepared to assume many of these positions.

The demand for life sciences workers in the state is expected to grow nearly 45 percent faster than for workers in the state economy as a whole, while occupations in the life sciences cluster are expected to grow at a 1.3 percent annual rate between 2006 and 2014, according to the Life Science Talent Initiative (LSTI). LSTI also reports that almost 80 percent of the new life sciences jobs in Massachusetts will require, at minimum, a four-year degree. Other industry watchers predict similarly growing needs for trained chemists in the state, and Fitchburg State’s program will help local students fill that void.

Chemistry is one of the fields in the forefront of the current technology revolution and, as such, it plays a crucial role in solving many of the problems faced by today’s society.  Chemists work in all facets of life including the development of new drugs for treatment of diseases such as cancer, AIDS, and heart diseases, the creation of better methods for the production of food, clothing and shelter, and the discovery of environment friendly energy sources. They also work on solving problems such as acid rain, ozone depletion and climate change.

The Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry will be available for pre-professional students who intend to pursue graduate studies, secondary school teaching, or a professional career in the chemical, pharmaceutical, biotechnology or related industry. The program is based on the curricular recommendations of the American Chemical Society (ACS) and provides a strong background in the modern areas of chemistry including biochemistry with emphasis on hands-on laboratory work. It also provides opportunity for exceptionally talented students to conduct independent research under the guidance of the faculty.  Students also develop good communication and leadership skills. In addition, the degree program will prepare students for further education in health sciences, such as medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, veterinary medicine, optometry and other health professions provided they take other pre-requisite courses.

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