Biology grads shine in Major Field Test

Biology grads’ knowledge, skill shine in Major Field Test

News contact: Laura Hancock | University Advancement
541-962-3585 | lhancock@eou.edu

Submitted photo / EOU biology students examine a 30 million year-old fossilized tortoise.

July 16, 2013
LA GRANDE, Ore. (EOU) - Eastern Oregon University’s 2013 biology graduates are leaving their studies well prepared, as the results of a recent Major Field Test would indicate.

Nearly 800 colleges and universities participated in the comprehensive test developed by the nonprofit Educational Testing Service.

EOU ranked in the top 40 percent overall, but the group of seniors showed particular prowess in the sub-discipline of molecular biology and genetics, placing in the top 25 percent nationwide.

Students completed the exam in the spring as part of a required capstone course for their major. Factual knowledge of the subject, data interpretation and analysis, critical thinking and problem solving were covered in 150 multiple-choice questions. Their scores were tabulated and released three weeks later.

“They [the students] were sitting on the edge of their seats!” said John Rinehart, EOU biology professor. “We’ve always had a strong program with measurable, tangible outcomes, but I don’t think we’ve ever done quite this well before. It illustrates how our program compares to other institutions, both large and small.”

EOU offers two concentrations in ecological and organismal biology and molecular biology. These were included as sub-disciplines in the exam, along with cell biology, population biology, evolution and ecology.

Rinehart explained how the Major Field Test serves as a powerful tool for tracking students’ understanding and proficiency in the subject. Lower scores also help zero in on areas where improvement may be needed.

“The results show our students are particularly good at critical thinking and problem solving, which we’ve focused on more in the last several years,” Rinehart said.

Those skills combined with quality instruction and hands-on research can give students a head start if they apply for graduate or professional school, which according to Rinehart, most do. 

Approximately 18 students graduated with biology degrees from EOU this academic year. The program’s focus in molecular biology and molecular genetics also serves the needs of those seeking pre-professional training in medicine, nursing and veterinary medicine.

“Congratulations to our fabulous students!” said Steven Gammon, dean of EOU’s college of arts and sciences. “Their outstanding performance is a clear indication of the strength of our students, faculty and programs. It is especially gratifying to see biology faculty creating a world-class educational experience that incorporates personalized, excellent classroom instruction with research. This special combination prepares students for success.”

EOU was one of five Oregon institutions participating in the Major Field Test this year. Public and private schools with five or more seniors in the time period specified are eligible to administer the exam.

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