an e-newsletter for students and alumni of saint michael's biology department

Biology Senior Seminar
In the Spring of 2009, the biology department successfully reworked our capstone course, BI 410 Senior Seminar. We offered three sections of the course and, as in the past, each of these sections focused on the history of biology and was taught as a seminar-style course, structured around student presentations that integrated specific topics in biology with their historical, social, political, ethical and cultural contexts.

The new addition for the 2009 courses was that each of the three sections had its own focus on a project, allowing students to apply their knowledge in biology to a problem of interest. Each section’s projects dealt with different topics and generated some exciting student work.

A focus on human health

For Professor Doug Facey’s class, students chose their own project topics in the field of human health, but with an emphasis on issues especially relevant to college students. Students formed small groups to research topics of their choice, wrote papers individually, and prepared posters or pamphlets intended to educate a peer audience. Topics included aspiration pneumonia, adderall usage, the importance of a healthy diet, contraceptives, dietary supplements, personal hygiene, and the importance of adequate sleep.

Creating science lesson plans for middle school students

Students in Professor Declan McCabe’s class worked closely with the middle school science teachers at the Mater Christi School to develop educational materials based on topics selected by the teachers. After an initial meeting at Mater Christi School early in the semester, our student teams researched the necessary background material to develop lesson plans, board games, and other classroom materials.

The lessons addressed learning objectives suggested by the teachers in the school and were in some cases based on teaching resources available at Mater Christi School. The topics covered included climate change, caloric content of food, and human health. The class also served as volunteer judges at the Mater Christi School science fair, provided constructive encouragement to younger scientists, and helped select the projects that went forward to the Vermont State Science and Math Fair.

All of the classroom materials developed have been shared on a wiki site.

Designing 'green' business models

For Professor Valerie Banschbach’s section, biology seniors teamed with business administration seniors to develop 'green' business proposals for the annual Saint Michael's Enterprise Plan Competition. The contest calls for students to create sophisticated plans for future start-up businesses.

  First place winners of the Saint Michael's College Enterprise Plan Competition, left to right, business majors Brendan Clark and Cinzia Coppola, and biology major Mallory Norton

The winning proposal was for Grateful Compost, a business that could collect and process organic wastes to sell later for garden compost. The plan included all the financials, a logo, and a detailed spelling out of objectives, mission, location, facility, products, services, market analysis, and implementation (make-it-happen) sections, in 34 pages of text and 48 pages of appended graphs, charts, photos and more.

The plan for Grateful Compost locates the business in densely populated Bergen County, New Jersey. It spelled out a mission of creating a sensible environmental remedy for the over-flowing land-fills in the region, while also creating a product that would sustain and enrich a gardening culture and become a profitable business. Grateful Compost would collect food wastes, process them scientifically in a processing facility, turn them into garden-enriching compost, and sell the compost.

The Grateful Compost team - biology major Mallory Norton, and business majors Bendan Clark and Cinzia Coppola, took a $5,000 prize for their proposal.

Spring 2010 Plans

Current senior biology students please take note for that for Spring 2009 registration, the themes, professors and schedule for each section of senior seminar will be as follows:

  • BI 410 A, Environmental Biology & Entrepreneurship
    Professor Banschbach
    W, F 2:30 – 3:45 p.m.

    Students in this section will collaborate with one section of students in the Business Administration Senior Seminar (BU 461: Business Policy & Strategic Management, taught by Professor Letovsky, chair of the business administration department). The biology students will serve as scientific advisors and work with the business students on the development of business plans for 'green' enterprise start-ups - businesses that address environmental problems. Biology students will team with business students to produce these green business proposals for the annual Enterprise Competition. Plans will be presented in posters during the spring semester to the rest of the college community. The top five plans, out of approximately 35 plans generated by students in all sections of the Business senior seminar and those from our class, will be presented orally by students to external judges (successful business people and scientists who are also entrepreneurs) to compete for prizes provided by Saint Michael's alumni Peter and Kareen Worrell.

  • BI 410 B, Education and Environmental Outreach
    Professor McCabe
    T, Th 10:00 – 11:15 a.m.

    Students in this section will use their biological knowledge to develop educational content aimed at upper-elementary school students. Lessons will be developed to meet the teaching goals established by teachers at our partner school. Educational projects will include hands-on experiments that illustrate the scientific method as applied to biological topics as selected by our partner teacher, and specimen-based observational projects that utilize our partner school’s rich collection of preserved specimens, or environmental programs (applied or educational) appropriate for an upper-elementary school setting. Project outcomes will include a science program to be implemented for school students, and labeled specimens that could be used by the teachers at the school in years to come, an in-class presentation to your peers, and participation in a poster session for the college community, late in the spring semester. This class will require at least one Saturday meeting and will meet earlier than 10:00 on no more than two days when working with partner schools.

  • BI 410 C, The Evolutionary Basis of Medicine and Health
    Professor Green
    T 1:00 – 2:15 p.m. and Th 6:00 – 7:15 p.m.

    The central tenet of this section is that our evolutionary history provides vital insight into our health and treatment of our illnesses. One of our themes is that infectious disease is best understood as being a dynamic, co-evolutionary system involving host and pathogen. A second theme is that some of our health problems arise because we live in very different conditions than those under which we evolved. Our bodies’ adaptations for health may not have adjusted yet. A potential third theme investigates the balance between working with our adaptations to illness (including fever, mucus production, and inflammation), and suppressing them to alleviate temporary discomfort. Evolutionary medicine is a fascinating field with many areas to study.

    As we delve into these issues we will also develop a general understanding of evolution. The key to making this section work is that you are engaged in the topic and participate fully in our class discussions. You will design and carry out a project that examines in depth some aspect of evolutionary medicine, and present your project at the college’s research symposium in April. Additional work includes reading, writing assignments, and class presentations. As far as possible we will work together to provide you with choices about your topics.

    We chose this time slot to minimize conflict with other courses and to allow some timing flexibility with the evening meeting. If you are interested in this section but concerned about the timing, or if you have other questions, please contact the instructor.



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