VAI To Offer A 5

August 30, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Van Andel Institute is taking steps to become a degree-granting institution, with plans for a Ph.D. program in cellular and molecular genetics.

Scientific investigators at the Van Andel Research Institute will serve as primary faculty for the Ph.D. program. The program “will almost certainly” have adjunct faculty from local colleges, universities and clinics, said Gordon Van Harn, Ph.D., trustee and director of the Van Andel Education Institute.

The idea arose internally. The resources and talent are already in place at the VAI, and most of the top rung institutes have graduate programs associated with them, Van Harn pointed out.

“The emphasis is going to be on cellular and molecular genetics but with special attention to what we refer to as ‘translation’ — that is, the translation of this basic science into a clinical setting.

“There is a great need for that at the time, and that is the identity the Van Andel Research Institute is taking on in its efforts to bring some of the new developments into a commercial venture. The graduate program will reflect that also.”

VARI researchers, who have been part of the process from the beginning, have endorsed the plan and already are functioning as faculty in terms of governance of the program, he said.

The curriculum is “pretty well defined,” Van Harn noted. The coursework is concentrated in year one and after that it’s heavily research oriented.

“We hope the graduate program will reflect what it means to be a research scientist, so they will be working as research scientists as they are working towards their degree. Our business is not only doing research, but is essentially preparing the next generation of scientific investigators.”

The institute has submitted the plan and is awaiting authorization from Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth. It hopes to get an answer in early September, Van Harn said.

The VAI will seek accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission, part of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, which is one of six regional institutional accrediting associations in the United States. It accredits educational institutions in the 19-state North Central region that includes Michigan

“The accreditation doesn’t actually come until you graduate your first student, but we would begin that process as soon as possible so we can get their advice and make sure we are compliant with all of their requirements,” Van Harn explained.

“That’s a fairly lengthy process. You make an initial application, they then grant you candidacy status and then eventually they will grant accreditation. We’re hoping we may be able to shorten that process, but maybe that’s wishful thinking.” 

He said he expects that initially most of the applicants will probably be people from this region who are already familiar with the VAI. The Ph.D. degree in cellular and molecular genetics will likely take an individual about five years to achieve, he said.

“We may be able to work towards a four-year program. I think it’s the consensus of the committee that we want to avoid some of the pitfalls of some of the Ph.D. programs that last six or seven years.”

He speculates the first students could begin the program as early as 2006.   

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