One giant leap for Science Department

By Samuel Charles

Columbia has taken another step toward a more diversified curriculum as of fall 2011 by offering a new major: arts and materials conservation. Not only is the degree program new to the college, it’s also the first degree being offered in the Science and Math Department.

Arts and materials conservation is the process of maintaining and protecting artworks using different techniques in chemistry, biology, temperature change and other branches of science.

Michael Welsh, the associate chair of the Science and Math Department, said this field of study suits Columbia well.

“This particular major works and fits nicely,” Welsh said. “The actual, physical work of conserving is a chemical and physical process.”

Columbia is the third college nationally and the first college in the Midwest to offer arts and materials conservation as a major. New Mexico State University and the University of Delaware are the other two.

While this is Columbia’s first major in the Science and Math Department, the college has often stated its commitment to increasing scientific knowledge and proficiency within the college community.

Columbia founded the Institute for Science Education and Science Communication in 1991.

According to its mission statement, it aims to develop creative, engaging and rigorous science, technology and mathematics curricula for undergraduate students, as well as elevate the scientific literacy of a diverse multicultural community, not only of students but also of science teachers and the general citizenry.

Apart from core classes, students who major in arts and materials conservation must spend a full academic year studying abroad in Florence, Italy, at Lorenzo de’ Medici, a fine arts college and conservation laboratory.

“A student [graduating from] this major will have the science they need, the requirements to go to grad school and some experience,” Welsh said.

The cost of living and studying abroad for a full academic year is comparable to living in one of Columbia’s on-campus housing options. Students’ first opportunity to study in Italy will come in 2013, and the estimated housing costs will be $7,872, according to the program overview distributed by the Science and Math Department.

Columbia’s most inexpensive on-campus housing option starts at $8,446, according to the Residence Life page of Columbia’s website.

Student reaction has been positive, Welsh said. But Beatrix Budy, an assistant professor in the Science and Math Department who is teaching some of the core classes within the major, first wants students to recognize the new program at the college.

“I want [students] to be aware, just to know,” Budy said. “I’d be very happy if they were to explore and see what it’s about because this might be wonderful.”

Constantin Rasinariu, chairman of the Science and Math Department, said that even before it was approved, the idea to bring a major to the Science and Math Department intrigued students.

“Before being approved, rumors of the major were propagating in the college and we had students asking us when it was going to be approved,” Rasinariu said. “Students are really interested.”

One of the biggest upsides to the new major is the possibility of attracting prospective students.

Budy believes a unique appeal to the new area of study does exist.

“Now students don’t have to decide between being scientific and being artistic,” Budy said. “They can do both.”

Rasinariu said the administration was very interested in helping make the idea of a major in the Science and Math Department a reality.

“[The administration] actually helped us a lot to make sure it’s a major that speaks as broadly as possible for Columbia’s needs and programs,” Rasinariu said.

But it was not only Columbia’s administration that supported the idea. Faculty of the Science and Math Department are very enthusiastic about the new degree program as well.

“We’ve got everybody making suggestions and willing to give input on the new courses,” Welsh said. “There is a lot of team effort.”

Budy is especially excited. She believes the major will help students realize the presence of art in science and vice versa.

“You don’t have a science brain and an art brain,” Budy said. “It’s the same brain and it can do both.”

As of now, there are no current plans to add more majors, according to Welsh and Rasinariu.

“We need to make sure this is working the best for Columbia students,” Rasinariu said. “We’ll focus all our energy on making sure this is a success.”