Student in lab

Offered previously as one element of the Bachelor of Science's physical sciences major, chemistry has graduated to have its own major.

University introduces chemistry major

October 1, 2020 | Science
MacEwan University is now offering a chemistry major for students in the Bachelor of Science program.

The new chemistry major will provide students with the theoretical knowledge and applied laboratory skills necessary to be successful in industry, academia or professional programs. Students take the knowledge they gain in studying five subdisciplines (analytical, inorganic, physical, organic and biochemistry) and apply it to practical applications in their final year by participating in scholarly activity with faculty supervisors or through internship opportunities.

"The applied nature of this major is one of its tremendous strengths," says Dr. Nancy McKeown, physical sciences chair and associate professor in earth and planetary sciences. "Our faculty are dedicated to creating opportunities for students to do research and have access to professional instrumentation. Nearly every chemistry class has a lab component.

McKeown says that given that major has only been available to students for a short time, she has already seen a remarkable number enrol. "This indicates the high demand and enthusiasm for this degree," she says.

Dr. Samuel Mugo is overseeing the internship and work-integrated learning opportunities for students who take the new major, and reinforces the importance of being able to apply theoretical knowledge in the workforce.

"Students will be able to make a name for themselves and will be successful in terms of getting employment," says Mugo, an associate professor in chemistry.

All opportunities have been accredited by the Public Service Commission, which means that students will intern in the labs of top Canadian organizations.

Winter 2020 was the first time students interested in the chemistry major completed internships in environmental monitoring, pharmaceuticals, oil and gas, and a few found placements at the National Research Council Canada and Natural Resources Canada.

Students who graduate with this major will also have met the requirements for the professional chemist designation of the Association of the Chemical Profession of Alberta.

The program is also seeking accreditation from the Canadian Society for Chemistry, which ensures the chemistry major meets a high level of quality and educational standards that effectively prepare graduates with skills and competencies required to practice as professional chemists or to advance to graduate school programs. Having this accreditation ensures MacEwan's program is competitive with chemistry programs offered at universities across the country.

The need for the chemistry major was driven by students like Scott Robertson, who is currently in his fourth year of the degree program.

"My interest in chemistry comes from its many applications," says Robertson. "Chemistry can be used to create compounds or devices that are useful in the real world, such as medications. Similarly, chemistry has many analytical and quality control applications as well that are useful in a wide variety of different industries. Knowing the 'how-to' and the implications of all these things that chemistry is involved in is interesting."

Before learning about the new major, Robertson was taking a physical sciences major and thinking about transferring elsewhere to complete his degree.

"The chemistry major allows me to place more of an emphasis on the subject that I am wholly interested in," he says. "Having this option at MacEwan allows me to specialize in that subject matter, rather than broadening my area of study to two subjects, as I would have by taking a physical sciences major."

In addition to being able to specialize, Robertson and his fellow chemistry students will now be able to choose between completing an independent research project, an internship or both.

"We've built internship opportunities and research experiences into the end of the major so students are required to get hands-on experience," says Dr. Matthew Ross, an associate professor in chemistry.

"Regardless of whether I choose to do an independent research project or an internship, or both if I'm lucky, it will be useful and exciting to demonstrate the knowledge I have gained over the course of my degree," says Robertson.

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If you’re in a degree program, you have until February 15 to declare your major — but why wait? Admissions to competitive majors close sooner, so check with your program right away.

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