Sloan Foundation Funds Development of Three New Professional Master's Degree Programs at UB

Programs to better address needs of students and industry

Release Date: November 13, 2001

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In recognition of its strengths in bioinformatics and related areas, the University at Buffalo has been awarded a major grant to develop professional master's degrees in disciplines closely related to bioinformatics by the prestigious Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The $225,000 award underscores the high level of expertise among UB faculty in these burgeoning areas and UB's commitment to respond quickly to the changing employment landscape that its students face upon graduation.

"This funding is recognition of our existing strength in these new interdisciplinary fields and is welcome for the assistance it provides in growing master's programs in the new areas demanded by industry as part of our Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics," said Elizabeth D. Capaldi, Ph.D., UB provost.

UB was one of only a handful of institutions selected for funding from the Sloan Foundation for the development of new professional master's degrees and follows schools like the University of Wisconsin, Georgia Tech and Michigan State University in pioneering the new degree. The foundation is promoting the professional master's degree to better address the needs of both students and industry.

Professional master's degree programs are designed to provide students with proficiency in fields poised to experience dramatic growth over the next few decades, but which are not well served by currently available academic programs.

Developed by UB faculty and administrators working with scientists and managers in industry, the new UB programs will educate students in their chosen field of study and also provide them with exposure and training in business, communication and ethics. This broad training will position students better as they enter the job market. Businesses, in turn, will be able to hire employees with both a strong education in science and with experience in how industry operates.

The funding provides for development of professional master's degree programs in the following high-growth, interdisciplinary fields:

* Molecular chemical biology, the so-called "bench lab behind bioinformatics" that combines computational training with extensive laboratory experience

* Computational chemistry, the study of atomic and molecular structure, which can speed drug design through the use of automated libraries of chemical compounds

* Environmental geographic information systems, which applies geographic information systems to the study of environmental and epidemiological issues, many of which are related to health and medicine

"Each of the three tracks involves, at some level, biology and chemistry, and each rests on the technology and mathematics that underpin effective computing," said Bruce Pitman, Ph.D., UB vice provost for educational technology, professor of mathematics and principal investigator on the grant.

"These tracks are important and exciting areas of developing science for industry. They also help us fill out a constellation of programs in UB's bioinformatics arena."

New or significantly modified courses that will be developed as part of the new programs include bioinformatics, genomics, computational chemistry, chemical biology and analytical chemistry of pollution.

The programs emphasize the areas of multidisciplinary strength at UB, particularly within the College of Arts and Sciences.

"Support from Dean Charles Stinger and his staff has been critical to the success of these highly interdisciplinary programs," Pitman added.

Pitman cited as examples of fruitful collaborations the alliances prompted by the decision to move faculty of the former Department of Medicinal Chemistry into the Department of Chemistry; strong interactions between faculty involved in high-performance computing, as exemplified by the Center for Computational Research and UB's graduate certificate in computational science; longstanding relationships among faculty working in the area of geographical information systems (UB is a national leader and home to the National Center for Geographical Information and Analysis) and connections in quantitative environmental issues, particularly community-based projects coordinated by UB's Environment and Society Institute.

Pitman said UB will begin accepting students into the new programs in the fall of 2002 and will have the entire program fully developed for the 2003-04 academic year.

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