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Mercyhurst announces new high-demand programs

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Six new academic programs – including graduate programs in two high-demand career fields - are opening this year at Mercyhurst University.

A cohort of 20 full-time students has already begun classes in the master’s program in physician assistant studies, while a master’s program in data science will launch this fall.

Erie undergraduates can also choose new majors in bioinformatics, environmental science or physics, while the Department of Interior Design will introduce a new associate degree curriculum.

Physician Assistant Studies

A physician assistant (or PA) is a nationally certified and state-licensed medical professional who practices medicine on healthcare teams with physicians and other providers.

The 24-month Mercyhurst program includes a year of classroom work followed by a year of clinical experiences in a variety of specialties. It’s designed for students who have completed an undergraduate degree and have some previous experience in healthcare.

Program Director Catherine Gillespie, DHSc, PA-C, says there is unprecedented demand for physician assistants as insurance companies and the Affordable Care Act encourage a team-based approach to managing patient care. The physician assistant profession continues to grow, with an estimated increase of 38 percent through 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a growth rate much faster than average.

Data Science

The Master of Science degree in data science is offered in the Tom Ridge School of Intelligence Studies and Information Science and will complement the school’s renowned intelligence studies program, which relies heavily on data analysis.

Students are expected to enter the program from a variety of disciplines, including the humanities and social sciences, business, the sciences and technology. They’ll acquire in-demand skills in data acquisition and cleaning, data analysis and visualization, programming, computing and web technologies.

Though Mercyhurst does not offer an undergraduate major in data science, students can apply to the Data Science Scholars Program. The program will allow students from any major to pick up marketable data skills by completing five data science courses and a research project combining data science and their primary field of interest.

Mercyhurst undergraduates can also enroll in a 4+1 program in data science, allowing them to begin taking master’s level data science courses as undergraduates and to finish the master’s degree in just one year after graduation.


Students who are interested in both biology and computing can delve into both disciplines in the new bioinformatics major.  

Bioinformatics is a relatively new interdisciplinary field that develops and utilizes computer software tools to understand biological data. It relies heavily on computer science and mathematics to analyze large data sets in biology, such as those generated from DNA sequencing projects.

Mercyhurst recently opened the Orris C. Hirtzel and Beatrice Dewey Hirtzel DNA Sequencing Center, the only laboratory of its kind in the tristate area specifically dedicated to bioinformatics and DNA sequencing. Students in bioinformatics will learn to use these cutting-edge technologies, develop the computing skills necessary to analyze the data generated, and have the opportunity to engage in hands-on research with faculty mentors who are experts in both biology and computer science.

Environmental Science

The environmental science curriculum will be scientifically and technically centered with opportunities to specialize in either biology or geology, and is meant to complement the existing major in sustainability studies. Course experiences will challenge students to apply scientific tools to evaluate environmental problems in the field and laboratory, and to look deeply at the interconnections among natural processes and human social systems in the world.

The program will include rigorous field-centered class and laboratory activities, practical hands-on field experiences, collaborative faculty-student research, and travel-learning experiences that will take students beyond the local area.

Global environmental challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss and depletion of natural resources have led to a faster-than-average increase in environmental science jobs. Both B.A. and B.S. degrees will be offered.


Over the past five years, the physics program at Mercyhurst has been strengthened and expanded, and students may now choose to major in physics to earn a B.S. or B.A. degree. Demand for physics continues to grow: the number of companies both locally and nationally seeking to fill technical positions with physicists is trending upward, and studies continue to show that physics graduates earn higher than average scores on the MCAT, LSAT and other professional graduate school admissions tests.

The physics program at Mercyhurst offers a breadth of courses from mechanics to optics to quantum phenomena, and students have the opportunity to customize their coursework to fit their personal goals. All students participate in faculty-guided independent research projects that prepare them to enter the work force or continue to the graduate level.

Interior Design

The associate degree program in interior design will offer students an affordable path to becoming a certified interior designer with NCIDQ, the National Council for Interior Design Qualification. The A.S.I.D. prepares students for careers in the field of interior design, with an option to continue working toward a bachelor’s degree.

The growing need for commercial and residential interior designers is creating career opportunities in specialties including healthcare, hospitality, retail, senior living and sustainability. Students will attend classes on the Erie campus in the recently expanded interior design studios, equipped with the latest in computer and software technology. 

Students will focus on the human element within the design process, using their artistic abilities to find solutions that are functional and aesthetically pleasing, as well as enhancing the quality of life of the occupants.

For additional information about any of the new programs, visit