Students in a Worcester State University summer chemistry class

Worcester State introduces five new minors to meet student interests

February 5, 2024
By: Rebecca Cross

Worcester State undergraduates can now minor in five fast-growing fields: gerontology, homeland security, mental health services, pharmaceutical science, and STEM. These minors, new for the 2023-2024 academic year, were developed based on student feedback and on career trends.

Worcester State has evolved considerably over the course of its history to meet the changing needs of its students and the community,” said Provost Lois Wims. “We are excited to introduce five new minors in growing fields, which will not only help our students be prepared to be successful in their careers but will also help our community be healthier, safer, and better informed. All of these minors align with our mission to prepare students for lives of professional accomplishment, engaged citizenship, and intellectual growth.”

Increasing scientific literacy

The COVID-19 pandemic showed how important scientific literacy is for everyone. Worcester State’s new STEM Minor aims to give students a basic understanding of multiple scientific fields.

“I’ve always had the desire to get more students from across campus into science,” said Jeremy Andreatta, associate professor and acting department chair of the Department of Chemistry, who wrote the minor. He hopes that, for instance, history majors interested in science history, political science majors interested in science policy, or English majors interested in writing science fiction will join the STEM Minor.

The problem, he saw, was that minoring in one science field was too big a barrier for students to overcome. The STEM Minor allows students to get the basics of multiple fields that they may encounter in their everyday lives without the barrier of intensive laboratory work. The minor requires students to take courses in four distinct scientific fields. Students can choose from among biology, chemistry, computer science, earth science, and physics. The goal is to increase general scientific literacy in students.

This seemed especially important to Andreatta following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. “All this scientific info was coming out, and people wanted to know more science to understand what was going on,” he said.

A key part of the minor is the course Tackling Global Issues Using STEM, a required capstone course that asks students to develop solutions to a real-world problem using knowledge they’ve gained from the previous STEM courses they took. “Most of our global challenges today require more scientific understanding,” Andreatta said. This project helps students understand—and perhaps advocate for—policy changes based on science.

The course also demonstrates the advantages of diversity. “We’re going to bring all these students doing the STEM Minor together into a cohort to tackle this problem, and they’re going to have really different perspectives,” Andreatta said. With this variety, he believes students will come up with much more creative solutions than students from one discipline would.

An interdisciplinary minor

The Gerontology Minor, housed in the Liberal and Interdisciplinary Studies Department, draws courses—such as Psychology of Aging and Health Politics and Policy—from departments across the university, including social and natural sciences and the humanities, to give students an understanding of the breadth of issues senior citizens face, from health care to policy. About 17 percent of Americans are over 65, and that is expected to increase to 22 percent by 2050, according to Statistica. There is already a shortage of care workers for the aged, according to AARP, and the shortage is only expected to worsen. So, the minor is increasingly relevant.

“We want to bring students from multiple majors together in a way to solve problems that one discipline can’t, said Aldo García Guevara, professor and chair of the Liberal and Interdisciplinary Studies Department. “Issues that are complex that require a broad understanding. Environmental, gender, and racial issues can’t be solved without understanding all of them.”

García Guevara hopes to introduce new interdisciplinary minors and majors in the future. The Liberal and Interdisciplinary Studies Department was established three years ago, in response to an increased recognition of the importance of interdisciplinary work.

Preparing students for their careers

The new minors were developed with student interest and employment growth in mind. The Homeland Security Minor is a prime example. With increased global instability and cybersecurity risks, the field is growing at an impressive rate—32 percent over the next eight years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Worcester State students have expressed interest in learning more and possibly pursuing a career in the field, according to Assistant Professor Mark Beaudry, who developed the minor.

The minor introduces students to topics such as terrorism, cybercrime, and emergency management. Beaudry hopes it will attract students from a variety of majors. Agencies are looking to hire people with a variety of skills, so graduates with a variety of majors can find a place in the field—and having a minor in homeland security will give them an advantage in their job search.

Within the last year, pharmaceutical jobs have increased by nearly seven percent in Massachusetts, according to MassBio’s 2023 Industry Snapshot, marking a 15-year upward trend. Now, with the new Pharmaceutical Science Minor, Worcester State students majoring in biotechnology can receive training that will prepare them for entry-level pharmaceutical jobs, from research to production.

“There was interest from biotechnology students,” said Meghna Dilip, professor and chair of the Chemistry Department, “so the minor was designed to cater to that group.” The Biotechnology Major is interdisciplinary, combining biology and chemistry courses, which precludes students from minoring in those areas. The schedule of the major is also rigid, and students were having trouble finding a minor that fit into their schedule. The Pharmaceutical Science Minor offers biotech majors a way to complete a minor that enhances their career prospects.

A minor for everyday life

The Mental Health Services Minor was developed because of student requests for it. “So many students—even non-psych majors—want to study this field,” said Brandi Silver, professor and chair of the Psychology Department.

The minor will give students a fundamental understanding of the mental health crises going on in the United States and around the world. Silver also wants to help students understand that mental health issues are often culturally defined. The faculty are good, she says, at bringing these differing cultural perspectives into the classroom.

Silver believes students can take what they learn in this minor and apply it to whatever career they go into. “Everyone can use psychology and info on mental health—even just in their everyday life,” she said.

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