Math, science, technology — these fields have defined and redefined our era, sometimes at breakneck speed. It may seem unlikely that a relatively small, predominantly undergraduate science program at a Christian university would have much impact on something so vast and fast-paced. Nevertheless, it’s true.
A legacy of excellence
PLNU has been the launching pad for biologists, chemists, medical professionals, mathematicians, computer scientists, physicists, and engineers who have made discoveries; saved lives; solved problems; invented devices and technologies; and faithfully served their communities, families, and churches. (Read about just a few of these people on page 22). PLNU prepared these alumni through challenging coursework; undergraduate research opportunities, often including conference presentation or publication credits; mentorship; and opportunities to grow in faith and community.
PLNU’s excellence in the sciences is well recognized. Nationally, PLNU faculty members have won competitive research grants from prestigious organizations, including the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Locally, hundreds of middle and high school teachers have received professional development from the Science Education Association of San Diego (SEASAND), a joint project of PLNU and UCSD, and benefitted from PLNU’s monthly science lecture series, Perspectives on Science, which brings renowned researchers to campus to share their work with local educators.
Graduate and professional schools have also recognized the excellence of PLNU’s math and science departments by admitting the university’s graduates into advanced programs. Approximately 90 percent of PLNU students who have applied to medical, dental, optometry, pharmacy, and veterinary programs have been accepted. This compares with a national average of about 40 percent. PLNU student acceptance rates into Ph.D. programs in both math and science have typically been above 95 percent.
Prospective and current PLNU students know the strength of our programs as well. In the last 10 years, nearly 40 percent of PLNU undergraduates have chosen science-related majors. In fact, the number of science majors has tripled in the last few years. In addition, our science faculty has doubled in the last two decades. All of this growth reflects the strength of our programs, but it has also increased the demand for space and resources.
A special role to play
If you know PLNU, then you know that academic excellence is part of what makes the university great. But it’s the special balance of academic rigor, spiritual growth, and community life that really sets PLNU apart and prepares our graduates to stand out. Here, aspiring scientists learn that service to others, as an expression of faith, is deeply important.
When making contributions that improve people’s lives is modeled again and again to students by faculty and alumni, a different kind of scientist emerges. The larger society often attempts to pit science and faith against one another, focusing on differences of opinion on specific issues. Alternatively, at PLNU, we teach students how faith and science can work together to make a positive difference in the world and in people’s lives. As a result, we produce graduates who not only go to medical school, but who, once they become doctors, travel the globe to provide services to those in need. We produce researchers who relentlessly aim to defeat diseases, make our food and water supply safer, restore sight to those with vision loss, and analyze problems to find humane and effective solutions. We produce graduates in the sciences who see their work, whatever its particularities might be, as a calling and as a way of giving God glory. In addition, many PLNU alumni spend the hours outside their work days serving in churches and communities in a variety of ways, setting an example — not only for other scientists but for everyone they know.
In other words, PLNU focuses on the way math and science can advance the Kingdom and serve God while preparing bright students to do the same. In addition to the stellar history of undergraduate research and excellent teaching that goes on here, this approach makes the PLNU science programs not only vital to the university but highly valuable to the larger world.
A threat we can eliminate together
Unfortunately, the well-established success of PLNU’s science programs is currently in jeopardy. The good news is that the reason for the crisis is easily remedied if everyone in the PLNU community comes together. The problem is our current science building, Rohr Science. It’s outdated, undersized, ill-equipped, and inadequate for the kinds of research our students and faculty want and need to do to continue contributing to their fields.
The building was already lacking when PLNU moved to the San Diego campus from Pasadena in 1973. Faculty members have done their best to make the current building as safe and effective as possible, but there still isn’t enough space for labs and equipment, and there is much research, especially at the cellular level, that simply can’t be done in Rohr. There are still safety concerns. And estimates to have the current building renovated show that doing so would be just as costly as starting over. The new facility will be crafted to meet all the current needs as well as to sustain the future of the math and science programs for decades to come.
The fact is that for more than 40 years, everyone has made do, but we have now reached the breaking point. Grants are being lost because we lack the space and equipment to conduct the proper experiments. Talented faculty and gifted students are opting to work and learn elsewhere — often at schools with lesser programs but better facilities.
PLNU won’t be at the forefront of research or of developing faithful Christian professionals in the sciences for long if we don’t address this long overdue problem. That’s why this issue of the Viewpoint is about the Campaign for the Sciences. It’s a building campaign, yes, but this isn’t just some new facility that would be nice to have. It’s a facility that is absolutely vital to the continued flourishing of the sciences here and, by extension, to the flourishing of PLNU as a whole.
A home for the future
The new science building will be home to the Departments of Biology, Chemistry, Physics & Engineering, and Mathematical, Information & Computer Sciences. It will have 13 advanced labs devoted to biology and chemistry and four new classrooms in its 32,900 square feet. The facility will have two levels and will include preparation and storage spaces in a cluster design that will maximize their accessibility and use. For the first time, the building will include space for modern university innovations such as flexible labs, new media, and distance learning. There will finally be the capacity for new instructional techniques to benefit students and for the desperately needed equipment and instrumentation the current building lacks. The equipment we currently have will be able to be reconfigured to be more effective. Safety and access will no longer be issues. And outdoor decks and terraces will better enable the kinds of conversations, collaborations, and peer-to-peer learning for which PLNU is so well known.
You can learn more about the new science facility in this issue’s Viewfinder on page 34.
An important opportunity
The Viewpoint has never dedicated an issue to asking for your help before. We’re doing it now. Why? Because this campaign is that important, not just to science faculty and majors but to PLNU as a whole. Because we have already raised $11.35 million, but your support is crucial to raising the last $3.65 million that we need. Because when you help us reach the finish line of this campaign, you will be helping transform the lives of students who will go on to transform the lives of countless others. And because, whether you are able to give $10 or $10,000 or more, we truly believe we need you. Please let what you read in this issue inspire you. Please learn more at pointloma.edu/sciencecampaign. And then, please, act to make a difference. Give. Ensure the bright future of our bright students. Ensure the legacy of the great science program and our great university. We need you. And we thank you for your consideration, your prayers, and your support.
We are in the final stage of our new science building campaign. Your investment in this critical initiative will help PLNU cross the finish line in raising the remaining dollars needed to complete a state-of-the-art science facility. Together, we will have an impact on students and their future careers for years to come. Please give today.