Executive Q&A: Finding a Solution
Chair of the Department of Biology, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Dr. Lei Li
UA Little Rock has made some significant developments in clinical biology that will greatly impact metropolitan Little Rock and The Natural State as a whole. Dr. Lei Li, chair of the Department of Biology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, is overseeing the changes. Li received his bachelor’s degree in zoology from Shandong University in China and earned his Ph.D. in molecular biology from Georgia State University. He went on to complete postdoctoral fellowship training in neurobiology at Harvard University. After four years at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Li accepted a position at the University of Notre Dame, where he worked for 18 years. He joined UA Little Rock in August 2021.
AMP: Tell us about the new concentration in clinical biology at UA Little Rock.
Li: In an effort to meet student needs and prepare them for the future, we designed and implemented the new concentration of clinical biology in our B.S. program for students who want to pursue careers in clinical services, such as medical laboratory technology, dental hygiene, physical therapy, physician assistant, radiologic imaging, cardio-respiratory care, etc.
While students will learn core courses in fundamental biology and other sciences, they will also have opportunities to engage in hands-on laboratory research with faculty experts in research directly related to human health. The curriculum will help students step into graduate or medical schools with confidence and find employment in hospitals, governmental agencies, nonprofit organizations or any positions where an integrated clinical degree is desired.
The new concentration will accept students starting now for the coming fall semester. Unlike graduates from traditional pre-med or pre-professional programs, clinical biology graduates are highly sought after by the health care industry for immediate employment.
AMP: What went into making this decision?
Li: I joined UA Little Rock on Aug. 1, 2021, and began reimagining the biology program right away, with the help of Donaghey College of STEM Dean, Dr. Lawrence Whitman, and Associate Dean Dr. Jeffrey Connelly. After many information-gathering meetings and surveys, it was clear we needed to create this new concentration of clinical biology to address the shortage of the health care workforce in Arkansas. The biology department curriculum committee and faculty supported this plan, and it was approved by the university early this year. We recognized the need and adapted to fulfill it to help our students succeed and support the industry needs in Arkansas.
AMP: How will this impact biology students and UA Little Rock?
Li: Student success and access is paramount at UA Little Rock. Within the biology curriculum, we offer courses that serve different objectives: to provide students with an understanding of basic biological principles and their importance in society; to provide a solid academic experience for students entering careers immediately after the completion of their undergraduate degree and to provide the breadth and depth of background needed to succeed in a graduate program. The new concentration in clinical biology is designed to prepare students to enter the workforce of health care and medical services or other related programs. It provides a strong pre-professional background for students interested in pursuing careers in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine or other health care-related professional fields.
AMP: How will this impact health care professionals and health care opportunities in Little Rock and across Arkansas?
Li: UA Little Rock is an economic driver. We consistently utilize programs and partnerships supporting the needs of the state, and this is another great example. Health care and medical service personnel are understaffed nationwide, especially in Arkansas. The new concentration in clinical biology will prepare students to enter the workforce of health care and related programs in Little Rock and across the state. More than 80% of our graduates stay in Arkansas to live and work in diverse fields. This program serves the community in addressing a vital need while providing interesting and fulfilling careers for our graduates.