North Central to Launch Science Program

College of Arts and Sciences seeks to offer science major with two full-time professors; HLC will decide approval of program in 2020.

Hennepin County Medical Center Expansion
Hennepin County Medical Center’s new building, which was seen here under construction in 2016, is located one block from North Central. The University hopes to launch a science major in fall 2020 or spring 2021, pending the Higher Learning Commission’s approval. While there is no partnership between the University and the hospital, some hope that there will be opportunities for more students to work here in the next decade.

North Central University is planning a big academic expansion: A science program that will begin by launching a biology major in fall 2020, and then grow into its own school under the College of Arts and Sciences.

This semester, North Central introduced a new science professor who has been instrumental in laying the groundwork for the major. A second science professor position has been posted, with the plans for adding to the faculty for fall 2019.

After the previous science professor, Samantha Currier, took a new job at Anoka Technical College last year, North Central hired Professor Leah Cook as the associate professor of biology. While teaching all the science courses on campus, directing all the labs, and working on committees, she has been managing the details for an entire science program at North Central.

The administration has big plans for this new program and hopes to add more majors with time. The addition of a nursing program is a possibility that would greatly affect the school, shifting its focus toward biological sciences. Many community colleges in the Twin Cities metro currently offer nursing associates degrees. Because of North Central’s close proximity to a Hennepin County Medical Center, a nursing program could be conveniently located for prospecting future students.  

The dean of the college of arts and sciences, Desiree Libengood, believes the new science program will enhance North Central’s standing in Minnesota and will draw new students to the campus.

“This will affect our overall impact as a university,” Libengood said. “The sciences are a missing area [that can] take us to that next level.”

Cook, along with her husband and three children, moved to Minnesota in fall of 2017 from Michigan where she studied and taught science.

“My family has always been very involved and very supportive of my love of science and teaching science,” Cook said.

Cook graduated from Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a chemistry minor. With encouragement from her family, she continued her education at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and received her master’s degree. She studied the effects of salt on Michigan streams using field research with an ecological focus. At Eastern Michigan University, Cook received a teaching assistant position which allowed her to discover her love for teaching at the college level.

She continued her education, receiving her doctorate degree in science education where she developed a curriculum for teachers in 2017.

“She’s a very experienced teacher, she’s a very experienced program director, and that’s really what we were looking for,” Libengood said. “Before we hired Dr. Cook, we were looking for someone with a doctoral degree who had tested experience and who could launch a new program—because this is probably one of the largest new program launches we’ve ever had.”

Cook said her overall vision for the science program is to, “allow students to explore their faith and its intersections with a scientific field while learning the technical skills they need to be a successful student and learner in a scientific field of study.”

Cook said she is excited about finding a job that allows her to share her love of science as well as her faith. For many students, the subjects of evolution and creationism can represent a conflict.

When asked how Cook reconciles these two issues in her own life and in the classroom, she said faith and science co-exist without conflict.

“As someone who believes and is also a scientist, I’ve had to take the approach of understanding both sides of evolution and creation,” Cook said. “I think it’s really important for students to explore both sides of the idea so they can better critically think and form their own opinions as it relates to their own faith.”

She is a strong advocate for open-ended learning and allowing space for students to form their own opinions based on evidence.

Other faculty members expressed high hopes for this prospective new science program. North Central will be presenting its plans for the new major to representatives from the Higher Learning Commission, will have the final say in whether or not the program gets approval. The final decision by the HLC could be made in the spring 2020 semester.

A lot of planning is still to be done. Libengood said the next step is adding to the team.

“We’re in the process of hiring a new professor for the fall.” said Libengood.

It would be the second faculty addition for the program in a year. The new hire would make the goal of establishing the program more tangible, said Cook.