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Here’s the new science degree WWU will offer in 2019

A marine biologist finds an abundance of marine plant life on the beach at Shannon Point Marine Center in Anacortes. Western Washington University in Bellingham will offer a new marine, coastal and watershed sciences major starting in 2019 at Shannon Point Marine Center in Skagit County.
A marine biologist finds an abundance of marine plant life on the beach at Shannon Point Marine Center in Anacortes. Western Washington University in Bellingham will offer a new marine, coastal and watershed sciences major starting in 2019 at Shannon Point Marine Center in Skagit County. Staff

Western Washington University students will have another degree option available to them at the university’s Shannon Point Marine Center.

As part of the state’s 2018 supplemental budget, the Legislature approved the university’s plan to shift $1.5 million in local funds to state bond funds, allowing Western to move forward with projects, including investing $1.3 million in a new marine, coastal and watershed sciences major starting in 2019.

“It really is something we’ve been missing that will be a really nice addition,” Shannon Point interim Director Brian Bingham said.

He said Western’s marine, coastal and watershed sciences program will be the second in the state.

Over the past few years, Bingham said the university has seen an increase in freshmen interested in studying marine biology. In 2014, 195 incoming freshmen expressed an interest in marine biology and in 2017 that number grew to 300.

That increase in interest has also been seen at other state and national institutions, he said.

“I think it’s just a growth area,” Bingham said. “I think there’s an increasing appreciation about the oceans and their importance.”

The increased interest, Bingham said, aligns with the state’s interest in creating more jobs in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

“Obviously, the state wants good workforce development,” he said.

The program will likely be a cohort program, Bingham said, meaning the students enrolled will take many of their classes together.

The program will also integrate topics such as geology, and will allow students to study topics such as deep-water communities, he said.

“We’ve never been able to offer that,” Bingham said. “It’s really an expansion of the fields students can pursue.”

Another goal of the program, he said, is to increase access to STEM opportunities for populations that are generally underrepresented in the field.

“Try and bring some of these students that we might not normally attract, bring them into the major and make sure they’re successful,” he said.

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