Undergraduate education is the core of our mission and guides everything we do as a department. At all levels of the curriculum we focus not only on knowledge and understanding, but also on the skills needed be a successful scientist: asking the right questions, developing methods to find answers, and critically evaluating and communicating results. Inquiry-based learning is at the center of investigative work in both the lab and the field, with faculty serving as guides and mentors for research projects designed by the students themselves. We are committed to providing an education that lies firmly within the liberal arts tradition and that also prepares students well for their chosen careers. We see these two goals as mutually reinforcing: a broad education in biology can expose students to career possibilities they might never have considered before, and can also help to reveal the many opportunities within a chosen career to work positively for the good of humanity and the natural world that sustains us.
Our program of study is diverse and flexible. We offer both a B.A. and a B.S. in Biology, as well as interdisciplinary B.S. degrees in Biochemistry (taught with the Chemistry Department), Environmental Science (taught with Chemistry and Geology), and Neuroscience (taught with Psychology). Within each of these degrees, students begin by taking a sequence of core courses that focus on the fundamental concepts within the discipline, after which they are free to choose from a wide variety of upper-division electives to design a major that meets their individual interests and career goals.
Our departmental facilities in the Frey Science and Engineering Center include ten teaching labs, eleven research labs, a large greenhouse, a darkroom, and numerous multi-purpose classrooms. Additionally, we recently renovated additional greenhouse and laboratory space in the John Roach Center. This renovation added new space for our tropical plant collection, a greenhouse lab and a research lab.
Our students also take courses and conduct field research in a variety of locations both regionally and around the world. All our labs are equipped with a wide range of state-of-the-art instruments and computing resources, and these allow students to carry out highly sophisticated experiments in courses across the curriculum – from one week projects in introductory-level courses, through semester-long studies in advanced-level courses for seniors, to multi-year investigations within faculty research labs.
Our faculty are actively engaged in numerous research projects, including interdisciplinary work with members of other science departments at St. Thomas and collaborative scholarship with colleagues at other universities. We are addressing questions that not only are of central importance to our particular scientific disciplines but also of great benefit to society as a whole. Recent funding for our studies has come from major federal agencies (the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) as well as from regional organizations such as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and private foundations such as the Merck Institute for Science Education.
As well as the valuable contribution that research makes to both science and society, it is also central to our educational mission, and students play a crucial role in all our research endeavors. Over half our majors participate in research at some stage of their undergraduate career, and frequently they begin doing so in their first academic year. Many present the results of their work at regional, national, and even international scientific conferences, and those who have made a major contribution to a particular study regularly become co-authors of publications in professional scholarly journals.