The exciting new world of Biotechnology in the 21st century has developed as a result of the convergence of biological, physical and mathematical sciences to solve problems in ways never before imagined. The breathtaking advance of DNA sequencing is one example of the power of this approach. In Biotechnology, students are trained in a broad range of basic sciences as the foundation for many important real-world applications.
Rutgers has been at the forefront of this biotechnological revolution as it has evolved over the past several decades. 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.
• Lab-based: Biotechnology students generally get more hands-on laboratory experience than other programs.
• Applications oriented: By definition, the word “technology” means that learning is geared toward practical real-world applications.
• Comprehensive science training – Because Biotechnology usually involves the meshing of different sciences, majors receive a broad science background preparing them for a number of careers (see below).
Our students have succeeded on a number of paths, including graduate school, medical school, and the biotechnology industry. In April of 2016 we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Biotechnology Program and honored Dr. Barbara A. Zilinskas who founded the program and guided it over most of that time. The event included talks by alumni of our program outlining their careers since graduating with a degree in Biotechnology. The former students discuss the impact of their Rutgers training on their careers.
The Biotechnology Curriculum provides students with fundamental knowledge and laboratory skills in biotechnology, with focus areas in molecular biology, genetics, genomics, proteomics, bioinformatics, and delivery/formulation technologies. These are 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/or 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.
The number of students majoring in biotechnology at Rutgers University is approximately 150-200. Three modern teaching laboratories, each with support space, are used primarily by the Biotechnology Curriculum students and faculty. These laboratories are situated in Foran Hall on the Cook Campus and 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 biotechnology field and many related disciplines in medicine and basic research.
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, 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. Opportunities are also available for biotechnology internships through the SEBS SPIN program. Some students are able to participate and present their work in university research programs such as Aresty or the Cook Honors Thesis, while a few students have even presented work at national scientific meetings.
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.
A unique and important aspect of the program is the interface with the biotechnology industry. This includes relatively strong industry background of some of the faculty and. the connection to the Professional Science Masters program at Rutgers, where some Biotechnology undergraduates are eligible for an accelerated Masters in Business and Science (see links at left). For those students interested in a career in the private sector after graduation or after obtaining a graduate degree, the Biotechnology major is great training.
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). Most of the core faculty has received competitive research awards, illustrating how good teaching and good research go hand in hand.
The Biotechnology Curriculum was originally 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.