Educating our future scientists

by | February 26, 2013 4:02 pm

by KATELYN MOORE

   East Georgia State College Biology Department Chair Dr. Jimmy Wedincamp is no stranger to Emanuel County, having graduated from Emanuel County Institute and attended EGSC (then East Georgia Junior College) for his associates degree. He went on to earn a bachelors and masters degree in biology at Georgia Southern University, then earned his Ph.D. at Louisiana State University.

   After earning his Ph.D., Wedincamp returned to Emanuel County to teach part-time at EGC and at Emanuel County Institute.

   “I had a few mentors along the way,” Wedincamp says of his inspirations. Dr. Marvin Baker, a biology professor at ECJC when he began taking classes, was “a very interesting guy.”

   “I never met anyone quite like him,” Wedincamp says. “I came from a rural background and was kind of insulated most of my life, but he was different and opened my eyes to a wider world. I really owe a lot of credit to Dr. Baker.”

   Wedincamp was inspired to teach by his professors at Georgia Southern University, Dr. Frank French and Dr. Daniel Hagan. “They got me interested in the possibility of actually teaching, and, once I began my masters, I decided that’s what I wanted to do was become a college professor and teach.”

   Wedincamp actually ended up filling Dr. Baker’s position at EGC upon his retirement.

   His area of study was entomology, and his Ph.D. work was in the area of medical and veterinary entomology, studying disease transmission by arthropods such as fleas, ticks and mosquitos, and the various disease-causing organisms they can transmit.

   “With the new program, I get to teach zoology, entomology and medical entomology,” he says. “For the first time in my career, I’m able to teach the topics that are near and dear to me.”

   With the explosion of growth East Georgia State College has seen in its biology program with the addition of a four-year degree, Wedincamp is excited about the future.

   “We currently have 13 majors and will probably have our first graduates this spring,” he says. “We have a number of students currently finishing up the prerequisites for the biology program, and we will probably have anywhere from 10-20 more majors next year.”

   He is expecting 20-30 total biology majors next year.

   “I think it is going to grow very quickly,” he says. “When I first mentioned to a good friend and fellow biologist that we were contemplating starting a bio program, he said we’d have no problem finding students. A lot of programs, even at larger universities, have 20-30 majors at a time, and we already have 13 in our first semester.”

   Wedincamp explains that a degree in biology is an extremely diverse degree with a variety of professional applications. “A degree in biology is broad-based and you can do a lot of things with it,” he says. “You can go into research at a university level, work at the Department of Natural Resources, work in laboratories, teach school, go on to medical, dental or pharmacy school… There are a lot of different avenues.”

   The new biology program at EGSC came about after a survey conducted among students indicated a positive response to the possibility of a biology degree. Area schools also gave positive responses and those results, coupled with the University system’s push to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees made the biology program a great choice of four-year degree for EGSC.

   “It fit a lot of needs,” Wedincamp says.

   EGSC offers a wide variety of classes within that program, covering toxicology, evolution, cell biology, zoology, genetics and many more. 

   “Our faculty is fairly diverse,” Wedincamp says, pointing out specialties in molecular biology, ecology, microbiology, and many more. “All the professors that teach the upper level biology major courses have Ph.Ds. They’re well-qualified, enthusiastic, and there to help the students.”

   Wedincamp emphasizes that a biology degree is not easy. “It is a very rigourous program and the prerequisites are tough, so it isn’t an easy road, but if people are interested in biology and want a good, solid foundation in biological science, I don’t think you can go wrong here.”

   EGSC was recently visited by SACS-COC, a group that accredits academic programs. “One of the comments they made was that they were very impressed with the fact that we had integrated undergraduate research into our plan. It is required to graduate with a degree in biology from EGSC.”

   The group passed EGSC with no recommendations, which is almost unheard of. “I’m new to the accrediting arena, but I’ve been told by people that have over twenty years of experience that it is very rare that an academic program gets approved with no recommendations. We passed with flying colors,” says Wedincamp. “It was a group effort. A lot goes into developing a new program–everything from the college catalog to the services you provide your students, to job placement. The library was involved, ordering a lot of journals that our students will use… It was a campus-wide effort.”

   “There seems to be a good deal of interest in the program,” Wedincamp says. “A lot of our students enjoy the small atmosphere we have. As an example, if you go to a larger college, some of the classes might have 40-50 students. Our largest upper level class so far has had nine students. We’ll never go above 25 or 30; our labs won’t accomodate more.

   “Having this right here in Emanuel County and available to the surrounding counties is great. I think that, being a country boy myself, I really appreciated the individual attention I got when I came to East Georgia and it really prepared me for what came later. I don’t know if I would have been as successful if I had gone straight on to a larger university. I think this program will serve a good segment of our population in the area.”

   Wedincamp says that his experiences as a student have helped him relate to the students he now teaches.

   “When I began college, I was married and had a child,” he explains. “I understand all of the problems that come along with non-traditional students and the trials and tribulations that go along with that. I always tell my students that I understand the problems they’re having because I went through the same thing, but its a double-edged sword, because I know the problems, but I know what you can do, because I’ve done the same thing. I have a very good understanding of our community and I’m from the community. It is a wonderful place to work and to live.”

   Wedincamp and his wife, Diana, have two children, 17-year-old Jacob and 22-year-old Michael.

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