The New Jersey Department of Higher Education approved the B.S. degree program in biotechnology at Cook College (now the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences) in September 1989. It was one of the first in the country and has received national recognition as a model curriculum.
The Biotechnology Curriculum provides students with fundamental knowledge and laboratory skills in biotechnology, focusing on molecular biology and genetics, underpinned by a firm foundation in biology and the physical sciences. The primary objectives of the program are to broadly educate students for positions in the biotechnology industry and to prepare students for graduate and professional study in the life sciences. The strong life and physical sciences foundation of the curriculum involves extensive laboratory and research experience, as well as a choice of specialization in one of the following fields: animal, microbial, and plant biotechnology; bioinformatics; and bioscience policy and management. Within each of these areas, students are exposed to current problems in the biological sciences and the role that biotechnology can play in solving them, and importantly to the diverse social issues relating to biotechnology.
The curriculum is interdisciplinary, drawing from faculty expertise in six departments and providing the students with the breadth of relevant course offerings. There are ten core faculty who teach the majority of the courses, advise students, and actively participate in curriculum development. They are enthused about the program and its excellent students. Additional faculty serve as mentors for undergraduate research students and teach courses offered by other curricula.
Curriculum and More
The number of students majoring in biotechnology at Rutgers University is presently 200. Three ultramodern teaching laboratories, each with support space, are used primarily by the Biotechnology Curriculum students and faculty. These laboratories are situated in Foran Hall, the largest and newest building on the Cook Campus. These laboratories are furnished with state-of-the-art equipment purchased with funds provided by the NSF, the University and the State, which enable the faculty to prepare our undergraduates for careers in the emerging high technology biotechnology field.
The curriculum itself is both innovative and intensive. The students are given ample opportunity for hands-on state-of-the-art laboratory experiences, both in a formal classroom setting and in the research laboratory. All of our majors engage in research prior to graduation, most often at Rutgers University or UMDNJ, but also through placements in neighboring industrial corporations. Many students begin research projects in their sophomore year and are able to complete a significant body of work comparable to a M.S. thesis prior to undergraduate commencement. For most of the past decade, a competitive undergraduate research and enrichment program has been offered each summer. Opportunities are also available for biotechnology internships through the SEBS SPIN program.
In addition to learning in the classroom and research laboratory, the students discuss the societal impact of biotechnology, beginning with a freshman seminar course and ending in their capstone senior seminar. It is essential that the students recognize both the advantages and disadvantages of the technology and are able to effectively communicate these points to a wide community.
The strengths of the biotechnology undergraduate program and its faculty have been recognized in several tangible ways. Many of the core faculty have received teaching and/or undergraduate advising awards, Dr. Barry Jesse (Cook College Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1994 and Outstanding Undergraduate Advisor in 1996, and Cook College Award for Sustained Academic Excellence in 2002); Dr. Donald Kobayashi (Cook College Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1996); Dr. Barbara Zilinskas (Cook College Award for Sustained Academic and Professional Excellence in 1990, Warren Sussman Award for Teaching Excellence in 1995, the USDA Food and Agricultural Sciences Excellence in College and University Teaching Award in 1996, and Rutgers Scholar-Teacher Award in 2003); and Dr. Gerben Zylstra (NSF Young Investigator Award and Exxon Education Foundation Award in 1992, and Cook College Excellence Award for Academic Innovation and Creativity, 2002). Each of the core faculty has received competitive research awards, illustrating how good teaching and good research go hand in hand.
The Biotechnology Curriculum was reviewed by a panel of external scientists who found that "the faculty involved in the program are characterized by the terms excellence and enthusiasm. The program was one of the pioneering undergraduate Biotechnology programs in the USA and has been the model at other institutions". The Biotechnology Curriculum was recognized with the coveted 1997 Rutgers Award for Programmatic Excellence in Undergraduate Education; in 1998 with a USDA Higher Education Challenge Grant to enable further curriculum development and to provide summer research stipends and a summer enrichment program for our students; in 2000 with a $1.3 million grant from the State to support a project entitled "University-Industry Partnership to Enhance Biotechnology Education for a High Tech Workforce"; in 2006, with a grant entitled "Brazil-U.S. Biotechnology Education Partnership" to extend the experiential nature of our existing biotechnology training programs to include problems that transcend national borders; and in 2007 with a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to support a scholarship and enrichment program for talented and financially needy students who wish to study biotechnology at Rutgers University.
Summer Research/Enrichment Program
For most of the past 15 years, a competitive Biotechnology summer research program has been offered to biotechnology majors. Participants received a stipend of $4,000 and a housing subsidy, and they conducted interdisciplinary research in the fields of genetics, biochemistry, microbiology, physiology, molecular biology, cellular biology and bioinformatics. Broad topics ranged from environmental microbiology to genetic manipulation of plants to animal functional genomics. The summer interns had full access to excellent research facilities, an enjoyable summer enrichment program, as well as other significant opportunities for social interaction. Funds are currently being sought from corporate partners to continue this program.
Career Paths for Our Graduates
There are many different career paths that our biotechnology graduates pursue. Roughly, one half of our graduates wish to further their education directly following college graduation. Many enter prestigious graduate schools of their choice, medical school, vet school, business school or law school. In September 2010, a new Masterís of Business and Science, Biotechnology and Genomics Track, was launched. Juniors in the SEBS Biotechnology curriculum that meet eligibility requirements may choose to participate in a 4+1 program in which they will receive a B.S. in Biotechnology and an M.B.S. in Biotechnology and Genomics in five years. Others prefer positions in biotechnology/molecular biology in industry or academia. Several large pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, including Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Hoffman LaRoche, Sanofi-Aventis, Celgene, Amgen, Genentech, Bristol Myers-Squibb and Novartis, hire our graduates and make requests for more.
If you would like additional information on the Biotechnology Curriculum or would like to arrange for an onsite visit, you may contact the Undergraduate Program Director, Dr. Barbara Zilinskas, Department of Plant Biology and Pathology, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, 08901-8525 (848-932-6224 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
To declare the biotechnology major, students must have completed 01:119:101 General Biology and 01:160:161 General Chemistry with grades of C or better and achieved a cumulative grade-point average of 2.0 or higher. Students whose cumulative grade-point average falls below 2.0 will be allowed one term to restore the average to 2.0 or better.
Students who matriculated before Fall 2008 may elect to follow the current graduation requirements below or the requirements which were in place when they were accepted into the major.
Degree: Bachelor of ScienceUndergraduate Program Director
Dr. Barbara A. Zilinskas
Department of Plant Biology and Pathology
School of Environmental and Biological Sciences
296D Foran Hall
Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ 08901