The Integrated Life Sciences (ILS) Program at the University of Maryland is a biological sciences-focused and accelerated curriculum for talented STEM students. The program includes a significant research requirement, a two-year commitment of coursework, and a student-driven service-learning experience. Our living-learning community fosters collaboration, nourishes relationships between students, and offers accessible staff and faculty to mentor and guide each cohort. We strive to assist our students to achieve their unique goals and launch their careers beyond the classroom. Our students' interests include research, medicine (human and veterinary), public health, dentistry, and graduate degrees including Ph.D. and MD/Ph.D.
Several recent national initiatives, e.g. BIO 2010, Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians, and Vision and Change, have called for the transformation of undergraduate education in the life sciences. The College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences has partnered with the Honors College to create the ILS program, which offers nationally recognized innovations in the multidisciplinary training of the life sciences in accordance with these recommendations.
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WHO ARE ILS STUDENTS?
ILS students come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, but are united by their common academic interests in the life sciences, their commitments to personal excellence, and their desires for productive and worthwhile careers in research, medicine, and education. We are built on a rigorous Honors curriculum, a multifaceted community in the living-learning model, a research experience, and common service-learning component. Our students repeatedly comment that the ILS community in LaPlata Hall is a wonderful opportunity to connect with so many like-minded individuals who are excited about science, innovation, and discovery that can benefit others. Their common coursework means they can always ask a neighbor for help, and ILSers frequently take over their lounge spaces for group study and socializing.
We celebrate the diversity of students from across the state of Maryland and beyond her borders. Our students practice a variety of faith traditions, include a spectrum of identities, have devoted their time and talent to myriad service initiatives, and value the collaborative and encouraging atmosphere of our living-learning community. ILS students are ambitious, intelligent, high-achieving, and community-oriented. Our curriculum and holistic approach to education encourages relationship-building in and among cohorts, integrates wellness into the ILS experience to teach students to prioritize their wellbeing while pursuing ambitious goals, and our small size (approximately 96 people per cohort) means students can easily access staff members for questions, guidance, and support.
The ils community
The ILS community is a multifaceted collaboration of faculty, staff, students, and university partners centered on a living-learning experience in designated housing in LaPlata Hall. It is intentionally designed to build relationships among our students, who are neighbors, frequent collaborators, and classmates.
LaPlata Hall is the center of our community; home to all of our first-year students, where the staff offices are located for students' convenience, where faculty hold office hours, where Teaching Assistants host study sessions, where some classes are located, and the location of many programs throughout the year. Community programs on and off campus are planned by the Assistant Director and promote relationship building, scholarship, leadership development, and an encouraging environment for students to be successful, healthy, and happy.
The academic component of ILS is intentionally designed to work in concert with the residential community of ILS. Our two required fall classes in the first year of the program are designed to encourage our students to get to know each other, value their diverse backgrounds and experiences, and work collaboratively on assignments and projects. HLSC100 is a customized introduction to the ILS community and the University of Maryland and facilitated by trained ILS upperclass student Section Leaders in partnership with the Assistant Director. HLSC207 is taught by our Director and lays the groundwork for critical thinking, mentorship, and student partnership that is pervasive throughout the ILS experience.
Additional components of our community include the Peer Mentor Program, which matches first-year students with an upperclass ILSer to serve as a resource, friendly face, and point of contact throughout the ILS experience. Resident Advisors live on the floors to serve as embedded sources of support, guidance, and relationship building. Various social media platforms and a closed listserv keep our students informed of community events, research opportunities, upcoming programs, and encourage communication between staff and students.
All students complete a 12-hour service-learning requirement with a community partner of their choosing to learn more about each other, their community partner's mission, and the skills to serve their communities in their future careers. Previous partners' missions include tutoring underserved local students in STEM, serving guests at a D.C. soup kitchen, and experiencing first-hand organic and sustainable farming practices at TerpFarm.
Technology classrooms and study rooms are conveniently located in LaPlata Hall and other adjacent residential halls in the Ellicott Community. The Eppley Recreation Center, LaPlata Beach, North Campus Diner, and football stadium are all located just outside LaPlata's doors. Given the importance of the residential experience in living-learning programs, all ILS students are required to live in the ILS residence hall in their first year in the program.
During the two-year program ILS students enroll in a sequence of accelerated courses: integrated organismal biology, genetics and genomics, a choice between biomathematics and biological modeling or cell biology, and a capstone scholarship-in-practice experience. First-year students also take an introductory HLSC100 course in the fall of their first year to assist the transition to the university environment and the unique components of the ILS program.
This sequence integrates fundamental principles across all sciences and encourages students to apply their knowledge toward complex real-world problems in the life sciences and biomedicine. The ILS coursework also complements the requirements for life sciences majors, and is effectively embedded into the required curriculum. Thus, ILS students can major in any academic discipline, as long as they are prepared for rigorous ILS curriculum.
ILS students are expected to have meaningful experiences in basic biological, biomedical, or clinical research on the UMD campus or at federal research agencies and biomedical institutes. Such options near campus our students have worked with include: the National Institutes of Health, the United States Food and Drug Administration, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the Smithsonian Institution. Students are aided in their pursuit of a meaningful research internship by the ILS Associate Director, who guides students through their search for a research mentor and appropriate project that fulfills at 240-hour requirement.
Research topics vary widely, are initiated by the student's own interests, and incorporated into the student's unique schedule. Many students complete their research requirement the summer after their first or sophomore year, or throughout the academic year in an on-campus laboratory. These opportunities are essential for training future biological researchers, scholars, and clinical physicians.
One of the objectives of the ILS program is to create a community that fosters collaboration and inspires action in the world. This objective is best achieved by encouraging students to participate in service-learning opportunities that promote the development of skills, values, and motivation to make a difference. All first-year students complete a 12-hour service requirement with a team of ILSers and a community partner of their choosing. Through active participation in service, critical reflections on the experience, and class presentations, students apply their classroom training to the world around them.
ILS has worked with some of our community partners for several years across a variety of topics that include programmatic and institutional values such as STEM education, sustainability, and supporting underserved populations. Such long-standing partners include TerpFarm, Adventures in Science, and CHesapeake Education, Arts, and Research Society (CHEARS). Through their commitment to service, ILS students have been inspired to create their own service organizations, such as Students for the Advancement of Women in Science (SAWS), which was created by ILSer Kelsey Anderson, Class of 2019.
Green Office Program
In an effort to reduce our environmental footprint and promote a sustainable future, the LaPlata Honors College Office is participating in the Green Office Program sponsored by the University of Maryland's Office of Sustainability. The purpose of the green office program is to engage staff, faculty, and students in a dynamic initiative that promotes best environmental practices at the University of Maryland. The program seeks to motivate environmentally friendly behaviors such a mindful copying and printing, recycling, and waste reduction.