UNC System Approves NCCU’s Doctorate Program in Biosciences

North Carolina Central University received final approval today from the University of North Carolina Board of Governors to introduce a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) program in integrated biosciences. The university will now begin recruiting students to enter the program in fall 2012, and would award its degrees four years later. They would be the first Ph.D.s awarded by the university in more than 50 years.

The interdisciplinary doctorate will be offered on two tracks, biomedical sciences and pharmaceutical sciences. The program will be housed in the College of Science and Technology, but will draw also on the resources of NCCU’s Julius L. Chambers Biomedical/Biotechnology Research Institute (JLC–BBRI), the Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise (BRITE) and the School of Library and Information Sciences. The curriculum will include offerings from the life sciences, physical sciences, computation and information sciences, pharmaceutical sciences and mathematics.

“Our Ph.D. in integrated biosciences is consistent with the UNC Tomorrow initiative, our own mission, and our strengths in health disparities research and biotechnology,” said NCCU Chancellor Charlie Nelms. “All 32 faculty engaged in the program have earned terminal degrees from some of the best research universities in the nation, and we have constructed nearly 150,000 square feet of state-of-the-art science space in the last 12 years.”

Research involving health disparities — the gaps between the health status of the nation’s racial and ethnic minorities compared with the population as a whole — has been explicitly part of the mission of BBRI since it opened in 1999, and a key focus of other NCCU science and public health programs for decades.

Shepherding the program to fruition was the NCCU dean of graduate studies, Dr. Chanta Haywood. “There is a diverse population of extremely bright students who want to be leaders in health disparities research,” Haywood said. “As graduate dean, I’m confident that we’ll attract them to our program.”

NCCU expects the program to reach an enrollment of about 20 full-time students in its fourth year of operation, and to graduate about five per year. An additional aim of the program is to expand the number of minority scientists, particularly African-Americans, in biomedical research. A recent report by the National Science Foundation noted that African-Americans make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population, but account for only 3 percent of the work force of scientists and engineers.

NCCU had a doctoral program in the mid-20th century that was short-lived but historically significant. From 1955 to 1964, five people earned the Ph.D. from the institution then known as North Carolina College at Durham, all in the field of education. The degree received in 1955 by Walter M. Brown, a future dean of the NCCU School of Education, was the first Ph.D. awarded by a historically black college or university in the United States.