Computational Biology Institute officially proposes educational degrees

Media Credit: Aly Kruse | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Keith Crandall, the director of the Computational Biology Institute, has proposed two new degrees for the institute: One will update a biotechnology master's program and another that will partner with the School of Medicine and Health Sciences as well as the Northern Virginia Community College.

One of the most reputable research institutes at GW is looking to officially start two new degree programs.

Keith Crandall, the director of the Computational Biology Institute, said he has now proposed two educational degrees for the institute. By looking to other schools to expand and revamp degrees, he said the new programs could prepare students for the growing technology workforce.

Crandall said that while the institute continues to receive grants and recognition for their research efforts, he’s partnering with schools to train students for the same successes. He first proposed starting a degree program two years ago.

Crandall said the institute is working with the College of Professional Studies and the department of physics to revamp a master’s in biotechnology program that was shut down a few years ago. The degree trains students to design and commercialize biotechnology devices for jobs in typically pharmaceutical and biotech sectors.

The program leaders said they are reviewing the curricula and are not accepting any applications until they relaunch the program with content that’s relevant to current industry trends. Biotechnology and bioinformatics combine biological sciences with computer science, statistics and engineering to produce products and analyze data.

“We are going to revamp that into a biotechnology and bioinformatics master’s program and see if that might draw some more interest from people in the area,” Crandall said. “We are finalizing that proposal as we speak.”

Crandall said he anticipates the program will be approved quickly because they are modifying a degree that already exists. He said that the approval process for the new program he is developing will be more complicated and “a long, uphill battle.”

University spokeswoman Emily Grebenstein said officials in CPS don’t have any information on the programs at this time.

Crandall said they have also proposed a new program that partners the institute with the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Northern Virginia Community College. He said that students would be able to complete their first two years at NOVA and their next two years on GW’s Virginia Science and Technology campus to receive a bachelor’s degree in bioinformatics, which applies computer technology to the management of biological information.

Crandall said students with the degree can benefit from the training because of an increasing number of information technology companies in Virginia, making it a convenient location for students to apply their skills.

“We think we are in a pretty good spot to develop a training program to get some great skills to be competitive for jobs in this growing industry here in Northern Virginia,” Crandall said.

A study released at the end of last year found that GW contributes more than 5,000 jobs and $500 million to Virginia’s economy. GW centers have taken advantage of the tech and research sectors in Virginia that have created thousands of technology jobs in recent years.

Julie Leidig, the provost for the Loudoun and Reston branches of the Northern Virginia Community College, said very few universities offer this program and the schools have run into a few challenges structuring it because the concept is so new. She said officials working on the program are currently mapping out exactly which courses students will need to take and what the degree will look like.

“We are very excited about the program in principal, we just have to work out some of those details,” Leidig said. “I am hoping that the process will move along pretty quickly.”

Leidig said the program is a hybrid of information technology and lab sciences like biology. She said NOVA does not have a clear home for the degree yet but they expect students will need to have a specialization in a biology degree before coming to GW.

“It would be an interesting conversation about how we continue to follow students and help facilitate their success after that,” Leidig said. “We are excited to be working with our GW partners and we would like to make this program a reality.”

At the beginning of last year, SMHS and Virginia Community College planned a partnership to bring students with associate degrees to the GW health science program.

Lisa Anderson, a SMHS spokeswoman, did not respond to questions about the medical school’s involvement.

Jeremy Goecks, an assistant professor of computational biology and committee member outlining the new programs, said in an email that he has assisted with the computer science and programming requirements for the degrees.

Goecks said there is growing demand for educational programs in computational biology and biomedicine because more data is being generated in biological and biomedical sciences. He said that continued developments in DNA sequencing technologies, imaging technologies, electronic health records and personal fitness electronics like FitBit will call for more developers.

“CBI can meet this demand by drawing from faculty across GW with a wide variety of expertise in computational biology/biomedicine and developing well-rounded educational programs,” Goecks said.

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