Innovative major gives students special opportunities for success
Martine Torres wants to give people living in impoverished areas around the world greater access to clean water.
“A lot of children die from a lack of clean water, or just a lack of water,” Torres said. “I thought that was not acceptable.”
She began her undergraduate career in University of Oregon’s international studies program, but in her sophomore year realized she wanted a more focused major.
So Torres did a Google search of the phrase “water quality” and ultimately transferred to Oregon State University after stumbling upon one of the hidden academic gems here: bioresource research.
Launched 20 years ago within the College of Agricultural Sciences, the interdisciplinary science major provides tremendous research opportunities for undergraduates by requiring students to complete a thesis by graduation; this gives them the chance to work with faculty mentors on unique research and ultimately write and present their findings at their thesis defense.
Although OSU’s University Honors College and International Degree programs require students to complete a research thesis, both programs are in addition to a student’s major of study. And while some major programs, like physics, require a senior capstone project, bioresource research is the only standalone major with such a rigorous thesis requirement, said director Kate Field.
With an alumni base of around 125, about 50 students major in bioresource research. Still, program advisor Wanda Crannell said students have found tremendous success both in and out of school: 40 percent have graduated with honors — meaning cum laude or higher — and about 20 percent have graduated with an additional University Honors College degree.
Furthermore, graduates have a 100 percent success rate at either finding work within three months of graduating or getting accepted to a graduate program. Around 60 percent of graduates go on to graduate school, many with full funding that covers tuition and pays a stipend to work as a teaching assistant or do research.
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“The reason our students get into grad school is because they have a proven track record in research science,” Crannell said. “For most faculty, that’s kind of a no-brainer.”
Opportunities for undergraduates to conduct research have picked up in recent years since studies have found that undergraduate research prepares students well for graduate school and employment, and stimulates problem solving skills thanks to long-term projects that often require teamwork.
Undergraduate research also gives students the opportunity to work closely with and ultimately build relationships with faculty. And because bioresource research requires students to pick one of thirteen major options that leads them to work with faculty throughout the university, each bioresource research major can work with stellar faculty and innovative research.
For example, Torres joined biological and ecological engineering professor Ganti Murthy’s project that studies how algae can absorb harmful dyes used in the textile industry. And Annarose Adams, who graduated in June, conducted research on invasive marine plants on coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea while studying abroad on the island of Bonaire; her thesis mentor was zoology professor Mark Hixon, the most-cited journal author on coral reef research.
Adams hopes to earn a doctorate and someday do policy work on marine science issues. She sought out a variety of classes that helped shape her understanding of her area of study, like a graduate-level costal law course, which taught her to communicate science with the public.
“One thing that was really cool was that I didn’t strictly take science courses,” she said. “Science does not risk in a vacuum — it is critically linked to policy.”
Likewise, Torres, a fifth-year senior, wants to go to graduate school, hoping to get in to a public health program and eventually work in other countries.
She admits that her work in bioresource research has been difficult, and jumping from a liberal arts-centered major to one in science took an adjustment. But Torres knows that her work in both the classroom and lab is giving her an insight to research she’ll not get elsewhere.
“I’m definitely challenging myself with this major,” she said.
Contact Gazette-Times reporter Gail Cole at 541-758-9510 or firstname.lastname@example.org