Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia will offer a marine biology degree when classes begin later this month.
The new undergraduate major is expected to attract more than a dozen students, according to SAU provost and vice president for academic affairs Trey Berry. The 2010 Gulf Oil Spill heightened awareness about the need for studying oceans and the human toll on the Gulf Coast ecosystem, according to Berry.
“I think our students will have a greater appreciation for what is going on in our region, especially the Gulf Coast. I think they have career opportunities down there -- not just in science but in industry as well,” Berry said.
SAU has added staff to its biology department to open this bachelor of science program. It was approved by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education earlier this year.
Jesse Filbrun currently heads up a Deepwater Horizon oil spill research project at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. He’s studying how fish eggs were impacted by the vast oil spill.
Filbrun has been hired as an assistant professor of biology to direct SAU’s marine biology program. Students will be able to do plenty of marine research, Filbrun said, even though SAU is landlocked.
“It’s only about a seven hour drive to come down to the coast, and we have active connectivity with the Gulf Coast. Students will be able to take courses within a relatively short driving distance to learn first-hand experiences both in the field and with people who are actively doing marine science,” Filbrun said.
SAU is also launching an engineering degree when classes begin Aug. 27. Provost Berry says SAU is making a concerted effort to provide new and attractive academic programs that will draw more students to the school.