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Evolution of Biological Sciences

Biological sciences - Laura Frost Associate Professor Laura Frost (left) works with students and staff in Point Park's laboratories.

When Maria Fusco entered Point Park as a dance major, she never would have predicted that in 2012 she would instead be graduating with a degree in biological sciences and a career goal of veterinary school.

Sidelined with an injury, she decided to pursue her longstanding interest in biology and chemistry and found her niche in the natural sciences at Point Park. As a senior this year, Fusco put her academic training to work in an internship at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh.

"It has been a wonderful learning experience that has allowed me to come to a better understanding of the inner workings and operations of a zoo and how proper training of birds is implemented," said Fusco.

Point Park's natural sciences faculty and programs are providing students many diverse opportunities to pursue academic excellence, prepare for medical school and graduate studies, and engage in challenging undergraduate research projects.

Associate Professor Laura Frost, Ph.D., who joined the faculty seven years ago, says Fusco is one of many outstanding science students at Point Park. "I have seen our program grow in leaps and bounds. The quality of students we are getting is just phenomenal," says Frost, who is also a faculty leader in the University's Honors Program.

Pre-Med at Point Park

Point Park's Department of Natural Sciences and Engineering Technology recently initiated a bachelor of science degree in premedical and preprofessional studies that allows accepted students to position themselves for successful matriculation into professional schools of their choice, such as medical school, dental school, veterinary school, pharmacy school and other graduate programs.

Developed by department chair and Professor Mark Farrell, Ph.D. in collaboration with Frost and other faculty, the program builds upon the University's long-standing biological sciences degree coursework. Students also receive targeted guidance, including hands-on preparation for the MCAT/GRE and similar exams, from experienced faculty who take a personal interest in each student.

Although faculty had long provided individual guidance to students, "we wanted to create a more complete and comprehensive program of study that would provide students with all of the academic prerequisites they would need to be prepared for the content on the MCAT and similar exams," said Farrell. "We also added a zero credit seminar to help students learn what the MCATs are, what they can expect when they prepare for them, and also provide some review."

In the biological sciences program, students can pursue work in such areas as molecular biology, environmental health, human biology, human genetics, immunology, microbiology, organic chemistry and toxicology. There are also three new concentrations available: molecular/cellular, organismal and environmental science.

Succeeding in Science

The success of graduates is a testament to the preparation provided by Point Park. For example, Franco Sebastiani, a 2011 graduate of the biological sciences program, was accepted into multiple dental schools throughout the nation. He is now a student at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Dental Medicine with the goal of specializing in oral and maxillofacial surgery.

Throughout his four years at Point Park, Sebastiani received multiple academic and athletic awards including the Natural Sciences and Engineering Technology Graduating Senior Award and the NAIA Men's Basketball Academic All-American Award. Sebastiani graduated with a 4.0 G.P.A. and was the point guard for Point Park men's basketball team. He also delivered the graduating senior speech at the University's 2011 commencement.

"Franco maintained an excellent academic record in a very demanding program while preparing himself to follow his goal to become a dentist," said Farrell. "He took advantage of the opportunities at Point Park and made the very best of them."

During his junior and senior year Sebastiani performed dental genetic research as a dental registry and DNA repository clinical investigator and laboratory technician for the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine.

"All of the professors at Point Park truly care about their students and want to see them succeed," says Sebastiani, who attributes Point Park's "aggressive biomedical curriculum" for giving him a solid foundation in science and chemistry for dental school.

Text by Cheryl Valyo

Photo by Frank Walsh

The Point is a magazine for alumni and friends of Point Park University.