Starting in the fall semester of 2017, Texas A&M approved the creation of the Oceanography Bachelor of Science, OCNG B.S., degree. The first freshman class will begin their courses in the fall of 2018.
The department of oceanography at A&M has been training ocean science leaders through their graduate programs, according to Debbie Thomas, professor and College of Geosciences interim dean. However, the demand for such an opportunity for undergraduates at A&M has increased, leading to the new degree being offered.
“We have an all-hands on deck effort underway to market this new degree nationwide,” Thomas said. “Our goal is to use this opportunity to attract students who love science into the field of oceanography and to share with families the rewarding careers that exist.”
OCNG B.S. is another way in which A&M can train students in ocean science and research, according to Shari Yvon-Lewis, interim Department of Oceanography head. Students will accumulate an interdisciplinary understanding of the oceans that will be put to use during careers in varying fields.
“There is a growing need for trained ocean science and technology professionals, both in the public and private sectors,” Yvon-Lewis said. “This new program will help support both the Land-Grant and Sea-Grant missions of Texas A&M University, as this new degree is tailored to providing skills for new oceanography related jobs as well as skills that are transferable to a wide array of technical careers.”
Within oceanography research, there are faculty members studying ocean acidification on calcifying ecosystems such as coral reefs and oyster beds, according to Yvon-Lewis.
“We also have faculty looking at trace metals and nutrient dynamics, and others working with ocean observing systems,” Yvon-Lewis said. “Research is being done on paleo-proxies which are used to study the ocean climates of the geologic past. These are just a few of the research areas being explored in oceanography.”
Thomas said this new degree allows students to transform their passion for the ocean into employable skills, but is different from similar programs at other A&M campuses, such as Texas A&M-Galveston.
“Our strategy was to exploit the research excellence within the Department of Oceanography in the broad field of Ocean Observing to form a foundation for the new degree,” Thomas said. “The ability to work with real-time measurements of ocean conditions from the Gulf of Mexico, to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, to the tropical Pacific Ocean and to gain hands-on experience with the technology, set this program apart.”
According to Christina Wiederwohl, instructional assistant professor of oceanography, the percentage of the United States population is increasing in regards to people living in counties along the coasts.
Ocean processes and their impact to coastal living, which will be explored in OCNG B.S., are crucial to know in effort to improve infrastructure for accommodating coastal communities.
“A large majority of our faculty are teaching in the new major,” Wiederwohl said. “Because we've offered an oceanography minor for a while, our faculty have been fully invested in undergraduate teaching even before this major was created.”
Yvon-Lewis said the Department of Oceanography has 27 faculty, with 22 in the new major. Currently, only change-of-majors and incoming transfer students are enrolled in the major.