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W&M offers new minor in marine science

  • Marine science minor
    Marine science minor  The College of William and Mary, partnering with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, will offer a new undergraduate minor in marine science.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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The College of William and Mary, partnering with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, is now offering a new undergraduate minor in marine science.

The minor, designed to meet a strong and growing interest in marine science among W&M undergrads, features courses taught by faculty in W&M's School of Marine Science at VIMS and in natural-science departments at the College's main Williamsburg campus.

Faculty in the School of Marine Science at VIMS have previously offered courses primarily to graduate students. VIMS has awarded more than 800 Master's and Ph.D. degrees in marine science since 1943.

The new undergraduate minor program, which began this month, is initially being offered as a 3-year pilot program for 20 students per year. Students declaring the minor will need to take two required courses (Introduction to Marine Science and Field Studies in Coastal Marine Environments); three of six fundamentals of marine sciences courses; and six credit hours in elective lecture, laboratory, and seminar courses.

The field-studies course will take place at VIMS' Eastern Shore Laboratory in Wachapreague, Virginia, where students will receive two-weeks of hands-on instruction in and around the coastal lagoons of Virginia's barrier-island ecosystem.

The fundamentals courses are physical, chemical, and biological oceanography; marine geology; marine fisheries; and environmental chemistry, toxicology, and pathobiology. Elective courses include invertebrate biology, microbial ecology, wetland ecology, and paleontology. Experience gained during the three-year pilot program will help determine whether these lecture courses will take place on the W&M campus in Williamsburg, the VIMS campus in Gloucester Point, via a video link between the two campuses, or some combination of these options.

VIMS Professor Elizabeth Canuel, a leader in establishing the new minor, says the program meets a clear need. "Undergraduate students have wanted greater access to marine science courses and faculty for years," says Canuel. "Over the past decade, we have witnessed a growing number of W&M undergrads interested in pursuing research projects with our faculty, participating in our summertime Research Experience for Undergraduates program, and enrolling in undergraduate- and graduate-level courses taught by VIMS faculty."

An existing Introduction to Oceanography course taught by VIMS faculty on the Williamsburg campus has been consistently over-enrolled. The new Introduction to Marine Science course reached its 50-student maximum shortly after being opened to enrollment in November.

Paul Heideman, professor of biology, applauded the new minor and the commitment of resources to further link undergraduates with opportunities at VIMS. "This has seemed to many of us on campus and at VIMS as a very logical development, and great from both perspectives," said Heideman. "The student opportunities are going to be just wonderful, and students will have evidence on their academic record of excellent preparation for careers that involve marine science."

VIMS Dean and Director John Wells says the minor represents "an exciting new chapter in VIMS' long history of providing an exemplary education in marine science, and will help satisfy the growing national demand for qualified marine-science professionals."

VIMS Graduate Dean Iris Anderson adds that VIMS faculty "bring decades of expertise in providing cutting-edge instruction. Their content-area knowledge and teaching experience will help fulfill the interest in marine science expressed by undergraduates at the main campus." She notes that the minor will also provide teaching experience for graduate students at VIMS through the provision of two teaching assistantships.

The new minor has received strong endorsements from William & Mary President Taylor Reveley and Provost Michael R. Halleran. "This is a great example of the benefits that come with expanded collaboration between our schools and their talented faculty," says Halleran. "I expect this new minor in marine science will become a very popular option for our undergraduates and we're delighted to offer it."

The program is administered by the Marine Science Minor Advisory Committee, co-chaired by Canuel and Heather Macdonald, Chancellor Professor of Geology at W&M.