Undeterred by low enrollment rates, BIO-SEC program eyes more training opportunities for students

With the right combination of classroom and field experience, the BIO-SEC program prepares students to become responsible stewards of the planet.

The Systematics and Ecology program (BIO-SEC) is one of the most sophisticated and specialized majors under the Department of Biology, providing students with a well-rounded education in the life sciences within 152 units of courses. Despite the opportunities offered in this program, its student population has been one of DLSU’s lowest since it started, hatching concerns about the future of its implementation.

Origin and infancy

The program was launched in 2020 after the Commission on Higher Education released a series of circulars that stressed the importance of biological sciences. According to BIO-SEC Program Coordinator Dr. Wilfredo Licuanan, this prompted the department to revise the Bachelor of Science in Biology curriculum, resulting in the creation of other specialized programs. 

Its first year of implementation coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic. With only three students enrolled in the BIO-SEC program, the University eventually got them approved for fieldwork in a marine station in Batangas. While a small student population is often seen as a problem, Licuanan believes that it actually helped them reduce the risk of spreading the virus. “It’s far easier for us to organize trips. It’s safer because we can easily watch over a small group of students rather than a large group,” he explains. 

Today, BIO-SEC has five courses specific to the program: Systematics and Biography, Marine Ecology, General Ecology, Natural Resources Management and Sustainability, and Terrestrial Ecology class. 

Fieldwork provides BIO-SEC students an opportunity to study marine ecosystems in real life.

Stepping into the water

Sophia Larcena (IV, BIO-SEC) expresses that her time in the program has been full of positive experiences despite beginning her journey during the pandemic. For Larcena, the selling point of the program is its specialization courses, which allow her to get her hands dirty. “I was able to explore the seas. I was able to explore forests, the soil, [and other] things that I thought were not my interest.”

Compared to other programs in the department, BIO-SEC’s specialization courses largely focus on fieldwork, making them more physically and mentally demanding. For instance, in the Marine Ecology course, Licuanan requires his students to dive underwater to fully understand the material being studied. By seeing the state of the corals with their own eyes, the students can grasp the reality of marine ecosystems in ways that cannot be shown by a textbook.

To ensure their safety during fieldwork, the program requires students to take up swimming for GESPORT. In turn, the professors do their best to accommodate the needs of their classes and address the challenges they may face.

The next phase of BIO-SEC

The BIO-SEC program’s unique curriculum opens doors to many career paths. In addition to a life in academia, students can also be an environmental officer in government agencies such as the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Graduates of this program may also work in citizen science to enhance collaboration between scientists and the general public in solving environmental issues. 

Despite its importance, the BIO-SEC program continues to have one of the scarcest student populations in DLSU, with less than 50 students enrolled in total. Larcena believes that their enrollment rates would improve by raising the public’s awareness of this program. Currently, not many people are exposed to biology tracks other than medicine. The BIO-SEC program is also not as actively promoted as other biology tracks. “We have to encourage people by talking about it, making SEC visible enough for people to search [and] visible enough for people to be curious about,” she suggests.

Licuanan, on the other hand, is optimistic about the program’s future growth. In fact, a new marine station was recently built and is expected to accommodate a class of over 40 students by the end of the year. 

The department is also developing a proposal to the College of Science to offer a minor in environmental studies that will focus on marine biodiversity conservation and management. “What we do is not limited to people in the biology program. A lot of people can find a role in conservation, a focus of our program,” Licuanan remarks.

This article was published in The LaSallian‘s Vanguard 2024 special. To read more, visit

Bret Cornelia

By Bret Cornelia

Madeleine Lim

By Madeleine Lim

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