A Science Major’s Home…Is Newcastle!

Loyola partners with British university to help U.S. science majors study abroad—and graduate on time

By Linda Strowbridge

Representatives from Loyola University Maryland and Newcastle University gathered on the Newcastle campus in September to celebrate the expansion of the universities’ partnership. Shown here are André Colombat, Ph.D., Loyola’s dean of international programs (left); Lauren Matthias, ’11, Newcastle ambassador; Chris Brink, vice-chancellor of Newcastle University; Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J., Loyola president; Gabrielle Paige, ’11; Timothy Law Snyder, Ph.D., Loyola’s vice president for academic affairs; and Ella Ritchie, Ph.D., deputy vice-chancellor for Newcastle University.

Unraveling the mystery of a young man’s death in Newcastle, TyKera Cornish, ’14, made a life-changing discovery.

The interdisciplinary biology-psychology major had always known that she wanted to spend her career helping people and giving back to the community. But she hadn’t figured out exactly how to accomplish that. A few months into a study abroad year at Newcastle University, however, Cornish discovered a career path that would perfectly mesh her desire to serve with her passion for science.

Arriving in northeast England in autumn 2011, Cornish plunged into the myriad opportunities to gain hands-on experience with health care through Newcastle’s medical school, research laboratories, and medical outreach in the community. She learned to handle the initial, overwhelming emotions of dealing with cadavers and joined other students in shadowing a pathologist as he investigated deaths in the city.

Cornish had heard about one case in the local news. A husband and father in his 30s had jumped off the Tyne Bridge—a striking city landmark that TyKera Cornish and other Newcastle students visited often.
The autopsy, which included both physical testing and an investigation of the individual’s history, revealed that the young man had struggled with medical problems, obstacles with accessing adequate care, and medical expenses that were burdening his family.

When the man learned he had contracted a terminal illness, he kept the information to himself and committed suicide to spare his family from lingering hardship.

“It was after I learned that gentleman’s story that I decided I wanted to go into clinical nursing so I could be a direct help to patients and access help for them in the form of services, medical devices, or other things,” Cornish said.

Addressing a Need

To make it possible for science majors like Cornish to have similar life-changing experiences while studying abroad, Loyola has embarked on the complex mission of creating a science-focused study abroad center at Newcastle.

Loyola signed a memorandum of understanding on Sept. 21 to expand its partnership with Newcastle University to both provide additional academic offerings to Loyola students and to include students from other American universities.

Arranging study abroad programs for science majors has always been extremely difficult, said Andrew Schoeffield, Ph.D., associate professor of biology at Loyola. In addition to differences in curriculum, teaching methods and language, study abroad programs for science majors must also contend with the heavy and rigid course of studies that science majors must complete to graduate on time. Those challenges have left science majors at many American universities with no study abroad opportunities at all.

Officials from Loyola and Newcastle are creating a series of courses which will combine the best of the American and British science education systems and give science students expanded opportunities. Organizers from both universities are also discussing a possible exchange of professors between Newcastle and Loyola and creating opportunities for joint research projects and expanded student involvement in research at Newcastle.

Opening Doors

In the mid-1990s, Loyola partnered with Newcastle University to begin offering science students international options.

Newcastle proved to be an excellent destination for Loyola students, said André Colombat, Ph.D., dean of international programs. It ranks among the top 200 universities in the world, the top 20 in the United Kingdom and the top dozen research facilities in the U.K. With world-class scientific research facilities, a medical school, and a huge and highly international student body, Newcastle offers Loyola students extensive course offerings in a truly international setting.

“A student who is majoring in biology would have maybe 21 upper-level courses to choose from at Loyola,” said David Rivers, Ph.D., professor of biology and biology department chair. “At Newcastle, they would have somewhere close to 200 courses—and they are very specialized courses, which is very exciting. A student could take a course in cancer biology, immunology, modern genetics, marine biology, tropical biology, or agricultural systems. They also have an enormous psychology program.”

Depth of Expertise

Dawn Kellogg, ’13, a chemistry major who studied for a year at Newcastle, said she was surprised by the wealth of chemistry classes available to her and the depth of knowledge presented.

Kellogg’s biochemistry course, for example, “included probably 300-400 students, which was a little overwhelming,” she said. “But they don’t have just one professor teaching the class. They have a couple of different professors who specialize in different areas so a professor will teach you just about carbohydrates or just about DNA. It was fantastic because everybody was so specialized and they got so excited about teaching you that particular subject because that is what they have been researching for their entire professional life.”

One of her physical chemistry professors at Newcastle took the time to speak with Kellogg about artificial photosynthesis and other topics she wanted to research. “He was enthusiastic to sit and have a long talk with me,” she said.

A Jesuit Experience

The Newcastle study abroad program, which started with just a few biology students in 1997, now includes 35 to 40 students each semester. In addition to the profound learning experience of living abroad and mastering the self-directed study skills needed to succeed at a British university, science majors have realized other significant, science-related benefits in going to Newcastle.

Due to the structure of the British education system, Loyola students at Newcastle can take classes with British medical students, volunteer at medical facilities, participate in animal behavioral studies, and participate in physiology labs, including procedures on cadavers, that aren’t offered to undergraduates in America.

Those experiences, Colombat said, help students plan their careers and “serve as a big feather in their cap when they apply to graduate schools.”

The study abroad expansion reflects Jesuit beliefs about the importance of experiencing a broad, global education and Loyola’s longstanding commitment to international education, which has already earned the University accolades, said Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J., Loyola president.

“We are investing our resources so that students have unique learning experiences, transformative learning experiences. I think that really signals the excellence, richness, and diversity of our programs,” Fr. Linnane said. “I hope that as a result of creating the science-focused study abroad center at Newcastle, Loyola becomes known both in the United Kingdom and the United States as an institution that is on the cutting edge of offering students opportunities for international studies, particularly for students who are science majors.”

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