New Ag Major Proves Biology Isn't Just for Doctors or Vets Anymore

October 12th, 2005

Mark Goering has always had a fascination with vaccines and helping people but the white lab coat he wants to wear probably won’t say "M.D." Goering is a freshman at Iowa State University, majoring in biology in the College of Agriculture.

Raised on an acreage near Agency, his career path is set for agriculture research. "By taking agriculture biology, I may be creating hybrid plants or vaccines for plants or animals. I am actually considering getting a Ph.D.," he said.

Biology is the newest major offered by the College of Agriculture. With the long-time biology program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the addition of the College of Agriculture program brings the total to more than 400 students. The College of Agriculture major has 36 students, including Goering, in its first semester. The new major is one result of a reorganization of biological science programs at Iowa State.

"For students, the agriculture biology major can open up lots of career opportunities as well as graduate school options," said David Acker, associate dean for academic and global programs. "Agriculture, as we know it today, is not one discipline. It is composed of a wide variety of disciplines all of which work together to improve the lives and livelihoods of our people and communities."

"When students examine the biology major from the outside, we want them to see a single, seamless program supported by two colleges and guided by one highly competent team of instructors and advisers," Acker said. "The College of Agriculture’s strength is that we are composed of over 20 majors that deal with everything from the life sciences to production agriculture and many areas in between."

Biology program coordinator Jim Colbert said the new academic major benefits students because those previously interested in College of Agriculture scholarships or careers didn’t have the option of majoring in biology.

"This is going to provide some wonderful opportunities and is hopefully a way to increase the total number of biology majors," Colbert said. He added that five of the hottest jobs today for biology majors include biological journalists, biodiversity specialists, ethno-botanists, biomedical engineers and bioinformatics specialists.

Kelsi Jurik, a freshman from Ames, is one of the new biology recruits to join the College of Agriculture. Jurik is interested in agronomy as a second major.

"I really enjoyed my agriculture classes in high school," she said. Before enrolling at Iowa State she looked forward to a research career at a large agriculture company, but now she’s leaning toward organic crop research. Jurik is a member of the Biological Sciences Club, a cross-college organization.

Kate Wiegert is a junior from Iowa City in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) biology major, but her career may lead her down the path to agriculture. "I decided I'd like to work on the human side of things when I realized how much of a need there is for international medical help," Wiegert said. She is earning a Spanish minor in hopes of working with Spanish-speaking migrant farm workers.

The only academic difference between ag majors like Jurik and Goering and LAS majors like Wiegert is the general education requirements they must meet to graduate. Agriculture majors are required to take an ethics course and LAS students need to take a foreign language. "The biology courses, supporting courses and the number of required upper level courses are the same," Colbert said.

Jessica Wood of Geneva, a biology major in the College of Agriculture who recently transferred from Ellsworth Community College, plans to major in veterinary medicine.

"Biology gives me a large variety of classes to choose from. The entire biological world fascinates me. The biology major enables me to get the diversity I was looking for in my classes," Wood said.

Contacts: 

David Acker, College of Agriculture, (515) 294-6614, dacker@iastate.edu
Jim Colbert, Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, (515) 294-9330, jtcolber@iastate.edu
Alicia Clancy, Agriculture Communications Service, (515) 294-5616, aclancy@iastate.edu