The university will offer a Marine Science minor in the College of Sciences and Mathematics.
The new minor addresses the need and desire for improved ocean literacy in Arkansas by providing students with an overview of physical, chemical and biological processes in the ocean.
A key element of the minor, developed by Dr. Paul Sikkel, assistant professor of Marine Ecology, and Dr. Richard Grippo, professor of Environmental Biology, is the requirement that students take at least one course or internship at a marine field station. Both Grippo and Sikkel will provide these experiences and courses through their research in the Caribbean or students can fulfill this requirement in other locations.
Both Sikkel and Grippo said that based on discussions with students and feedback from the small number of marine-related courses currently offered at ASU, there is a great deal of interest in the marine environment among students at ASU and in the state of Arkansas.
"Although Arkansas is a land-locked state, the global scope of our research at Arkansas State also allows opportunities for undergraduates to obtain marine science expertise both inside the classroom and in the field by working with our research faculty," says Dr. Thomas S. Risch, professor and chair of the ASU Department of Biological Sciences.
Sikkel says that the overwhelming majority of the general public, as well as scientists, know very little about marine organisms and processes, at least compared with terrestrial or freshwater systems. This is a problem, Sikkel says, considering the ocean covers more than 70 percent of the Earth's surface and is responsible for most of its photosynthesis, contains most of its biomass and biological diversity, and is the main driver of global weather systems.
"Students in the state just have very little exposure to it or guidance from people with expertise in marine science," Sikkel says. "We hope to change that."
Grippo, who has been teaching at ASU for 18 years, says there has been a persistent interest in marine science throughout that time. Previously existing ASU faculty members who have marine interests and experience coupled with the addition of recent hires who specialize in marine science have resulted in a selection of ASU professors capable of providing students with the courses and field and laboratory experiences they need to be "ocean literate."
As news of the Marine Science minor has grown, interest in the program has risen tremendously, Grippo says. High schools as far away as Poplar Bluff, Missouri, have invited him to talk about marine science and other opportunities at ASU, and most recently, he was contacted by the nearby Brookland school system to speak about the marine science minor at their annual career fair.
Grippo says the new minor will help support ASU's Marine Biology Club, which in the past year has taken trips to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, the New Orleans Aquarium, and most recently, the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.
Dr. John M. Pratte, interim dean of ASU's College of Sciences and Mathematics, says that some might find it surprising that an institution in Arkansas would be offering a Marine Science minor.
"However, when you realize the amount of research being done at ASU that involves the ocean, you wouldn't be surprised at all," Pratte says. "This degree is a testament to the interest, skills and hard work of both our students and our faculty. I expect it to lead to great discoveries and to opening new doors for our students."