After months of planning, the University of Arizona is set to launch the UA Online Science Academy.
The new initiative will allow students to take science courses — such as chemistry, biology, space and atmospheric sciences, environmental sciences, and physiology — without the need to be physically present on campus.
The academy comes at a critical juncture for the UA, as the institution continues its mission to increase access to higher education on a global scale. The initiative also represents a huge leap forward for the online academic world, as sciences — especially lab sciences — long have been considered a missing puzzle piece for online learners.
"The UA is known as one of the premier science universities in the world," said Vincent J. Del Casino Jr., vice provost for Digital Learning and Student Engagement, and the associate vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management.
"We felt it was our responsibility as a public institution to expand access to that world-class education and open new opportunities for students seeking degrees and careers in science or medicine," Del Casino said.
The full slate of courses is still being finalized. Students can expect to enroll in the Science Academy beginning in the spring of 2017.
Since its launch in 2015, UA Online has expanded its portfolio of online degree and certificate programs, yet the sciences have been delivered only through a few upper-division courses and programs.
The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that STEM jobs will grow approximately 1.7 times faster than non-STEM positions. Now the UA is even better suited to help fill the demand and to help students who seek also to enter the medical field.
"With the rapid growth of UA Online since its launch in 2015, one of our key strategies to scale our model is to leverage our stature as a world-class research and innovation institution," said Melissa Vito, senior vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, and the senior vice provost for Academic Initiatives and Student Success.
"The UA Online Science Academy is a real-world solution to the growing demand for medical and STEM professionals, and an opportunity for us to welcome a new population of online learners while ultimately producing leaders that will improve the welfare of our state and nation," Vito said.
The UA built its online technology infrastructure from the ground up — not outsourcing, as is the norm nationally — so that it could best leverage the strength of its faculty and academics.
The Science Academy provides online students with an experience as rich and academically challenging as they would receive on campus, awarding the same degree.
"As a faculty member, it's a challenge and a thrill to replicate the engagement and interactivity of a face-to-face classroom, while upholding the UA's academic standards, in online science courses," said Chris Impey, University Distinguished Professor and associate dean of the College of Science. "But we have some of the best scientists in the world to accept the task of bringing our cutting-edge research to serve the online students and lifelong learners who have been clamoring for the flexibility and benefits that these online classes can provide."