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IBHE Approves Master's in Biology at Shedd Aquarium; Funding for Steam Line Replacement, Heating Plant Upgrade

January 26, 2010

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MACOMB, IL -- The Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) today (Jan. 26) approved Western Illinois University's request to offer a Master of Science in Biology, with an emphasis in zoo and aquaria studies, at John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and approved Western's request to upgrade the University's heating plant and to replace steam lines.

Students enrolled in the 32-semester-hour program, which was approved by Western's Board of Trustees in October 2009, would complete some coursework and conduct research at Shedd Aquarium, as well as at Western's Macomb and/or Quad Cities campuses. The program, which will be delivered at Shedd Aquarium beginning Fall 2010, is the only master's degree program in the state of Illinois that provides a zoo and aquaria studies concentration.

According to WIU Provost and Academic Vice President Jack Thomas, the degree program at the Shedd is designed to prepare students for highly competitive careers in zoos and aquariums, and builds upon the strengths of the University's existing bachelor's and master's biology degree programs.

"We created this particular graduate degree program to provide graduates with greater career possibilities and to fill an area of need. Students were asking for this concentration," Thomas added. "We are pleased to offer this new academic option to our students."

Fall enrollments are projected to grow from 10 in the first year to approximately 16 in five years.

"Western's biology faculty began offering a biology graduate-level course at Shedd Aquarium in 1991. Nine years later, faculty recognized that students want careers in zoos and aquariums, so we created a post-baccalaureate certificate in response to the need," said College of Arts and Sciences Interim Dean Susan Martinelli-Fernandez. "The partnership between Western and Shedd Aquarium has been successful throughout the years, and this new degree program further builds upon that success."

For more information about the Master of Science in Biology, with an emphasis in zoo and aquaria studies, at John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, contact Western's department of biological sciences at (309) 298-1546.

In other business, the IBHE approved a $12 million non-instructional capital project request from the University to replace steam lines and update Western's heating plant on the Macomb campus, as well as reimbursement for the installation of sprinkler systems in the residence halls. In December 2009, Western's Board of Trustees approved selling certificates of participation to complete the renovation of the heating plant ($5 million); replacement of steam lines serving four academic buildings and six residence halls, as well as constructing tunnels to replace original direct buried steam lines ($5 million); and reimbursement for the installation of sprinkler systems in student housing ($1.5 million).

According to Jackie Thompson, vice president for administrative services, the renovation of the heating plant is necessary to ensure continued operational reliability and to improve the efficiency of the sole heating source for the WIU-Macomb campus. The project includes replacing the coal masonry smoke stack, updating the coal handling system, relocating 80-year-old electrical equipment and other smaller, related miscellaneous projects. Centrally located on campus, the current coal masonry smoke stack – built circa 1920s – is currently being held together with metal bands and is in poor condition, Thompson added.

In addition, the University has experienced serious, multiple breaks in aging steam lines requiring parking lots to be torn up and leaving campus buildings without heating or cooling. The steam lines subject to repair and replacement serve 1.5 million-square-feet of space. This aspect of the project also includes the construction of 1,500 linear feet of walk and shallow tunnels to replace the original buried steam lines.

The Certificate of Participations (COPs) issuance reimburses the University for Phase II of the sprinkler system project for student housing facilities, specifically Thompson and Tanner halls. Phase I of this sprinkler system project was funded through a 2005 COPs issuance.

Posted By: Darcie Shinberger (
Office of University Communications & Marketing