Chemistry department thriving

Kennesaw State University’s department of chemistry and biochemistry now boasts the most majors of any similar degree program in the University System of Georgia.

Georgia (Oct 20, 2003) — Kennesaw State University’s department of chemistry and biochemistry has undergone an amazing reversal of fortune in recent years‚ and now boasts the most majors of any similar degree program in the University System of Georgia.

The department‚ which was in jeopardy when the Georgia Board of Regents looked into the possibility of eliminating some smaller programs just a few short years ago‚ has seen its number of majors grow by nearly 300 percent over the past five years‚ increasing from 75 in fiscal year 1999 to 354 today.

“Three hundred fifty−four majors is a huge number of chemistry majors‚” said Dr. Leon Combs‚ department chair. “It’s not as many as in biology and some other programs‚ but it’s very unusual for a chemistry department anywhere to have that number of majors.”

In addition to majors‚ total enrollment and credit hours have spiked as well‚ increasing 92 percent since 2001. Growth is constant in both lower and upper division courses‚ which means efforts at improving student retention are succeeding as well.

“We’re getting more and more recognized‚ not just in Georgia but throughout the region‚ as having a solid product here‚” Combs said. “It just takes time‚ especially at a school that didn’t have a history of science. I think we’ve arrived now.”

While the growth of the department is impressive‚ the reasons behind it are not easy to nail down. As Combs sees it‚ no one initiative is responsible for the program’s new−found popularity among students. To the contrary‚ it is a combination of factors — from innovative new degree tracks to involvement with area high schools through programs such as the Chemistry Olympiad — that has helped KSU rise through the ranks.

The new course offerings include the only biochemistry degree in the state focusing solely on undergraduates. A forensic chemistry track has been added as well.

“Students are really interested in forensic chemistry‚” Combs noted‚ pointing to the success of television shows such as CSI and CSI Miami. “We have a lot of students that are seeing that as a career choice.”

Once they choose chemistry as their major‚ students are offered the kind of hands−on technical training rarely available in an undergraduate program. They find themselves doing research alongside faculty members and posting their results on the wall in the laboratory wing of the science building. Students and their faculty mentors also present research results at state‚ national and international meetings‚ which brings more recognition to the department and KSU.

“We have believed for a long time in this department that people learn best by doing‚” Combs said. “We emphasize strongly that students do research with faculty‚ because that’s where they’re going to really learn chemistry and biochemistry.”

The applied focus of KSU’s chemistry and biochemistry department helps students succeed in a very competitive job market. Graduates routinely land jobs not only at area pharmaceutical firms‚ but also at large corporations such as Coca−Cola and Anheuser Busch. The graduate school option is also available to them‚ and thanks to the success of others who have already chosen that path‚ more and more graduate programs are beginning to look at KSU as a fertile recruiting base.

“Our emphasis is undergraduate‚ and we want every one of them to succeed‚” Combs said. “We’ve worked hard at that‚ and they appreciate it.

“Our students have a good work ethic‚ and they have as good a technical background as any BS program in the state of Georgia‚” he added. “It’s not just numbers‚ it’s quality. They’re knowledgable in how to do research‚ and they’re knowledgeable in how to use all the equipment; those things are crucial.”


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit