Although decades have passed and the name has changed, Wagner College's program in bacteriology — today known as microbiology — continues to flourish. Lately, in fact, it's been spreading like bacterial colonies on a petri dish.
The program that launched Vince Fischetti's career (and many others') coalesced into a major, bacteriology and public health, in the early 1950s. Its name was updated to microbiology — reflecting its focus on all microbes, not just bacteria — in 2000.
“Wagner's microbiology program provides an in-depth, hands-on education in the manipulation, identification, and characterization of clinically and industrially important microorganisms,” says Roy Mosher, associate professor and director of the master's program in microbiology. This type of undergraduate program at a liberal arts college is “extremely unusual,” he says; there are none others like it in the Tristate area, and perhaps not in the entire Northeast.
The creation of a Microbiology Club this fall demonstrates Wagner students' enthusiasm for the study of organisms too small to see with the naked eye. On a chilly, wet October afternoon, the club held a party in the Coffeehouse to celebrate its founding, and 500 people showed up.
“I'm very persuasive,” says the bubbly, gregarious club president, Julia Mullins '12, to explain how her 40-member group created one of the fall's biggest campus events. Plus, the club has caught their fellow students' attention with creative educational endeavors, such as hand sanitizer giveaways, handouts with “Fun Facts About Microbes,” and a raffle of colorful, plush educational toys shaped like microbes.
Mullins came to Wagner thinking she would major in biology, but switched to microbiology major after hearing about it from friends. The club's vice president, Corey Gaylets '13, discovered the major through his First-Year Learning Community, which combined introductory microbiology with a course in experimental design. Although Gaylets originally harbored ambitions of becoming a doctor, he says, “Now I think I want to be a microbiologist and do lab work.”
Since microbiology is not taught in high school, Mosher says, “making [students] aware that they can major in this subject is the key.” Including microbiology in the First-Year Program during the past few years was a deliberate move to attract student interest in the major — and it has worked. Every year, says Mosher, around five students from the first-year LC declare microbiology majors.
Another factor boosting microbiology is the new five-year combined B.S./M.S. program, which started in fall 2009. Most students are signing on for this option now, says Mosher.
Microbiology has become a close-knit and enthusiastic subculture at Wagner, say Mullins and Gaylets. They enjoy their professors, crack nerdy science jokes, take pride in their spotless labs and research displays on the third floor of Megerle Science Building, and look forward to excellent post-graduate job prospects as microbiologists in government agencies and industries ranging from pharmaceuticals to cosmetics to foods.
In 2008, funds from an anonymous donor made possible the renovation of the microbiology laboratories with state-of-the-art equipment. “It's been nice to show prospective students around the lab,” Mosher says. “That has enhanced our ability to impress students. It shows that the College takes the program seriously.”