For students in the Division of Natural Sciences at Mount Saint Mary College, the classroom is just the beginning. With majors in Biology and Chemistry and opportunities for development on pre-professional tracks in medicine, physical therapy, veterinary medicine, and more, Natural Science students are often out in the field with professors, taking the knowledge they’ve gained in the classroom and lab and applying it in local, national, and even international communities.
The Division of Natural Sciences emphasizes the importance of students applying their scientific knowledge to real-life situations.
Popular with Natural Science students is the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE), a paid, on-campus summer research program that pairs Mount students with professors for one-on-one research projects of their choosing.
In the past, Natural Science students have spent their summers researching bird and tree diversity in forests, gene expressions from broccoli, and the effects that mouthwash has the chemical composition of teeth.
Some of this research has gone on to be presented at conferences, published in academic journals, and used by scientists in the larger community. Students feel empowered by the fact that they are contributing to the academic pursuit of science, with effects not just at the Mount, but also in the entire scientific community. It’s unique experiences like these that prepare students for success after graduation.
“The program gave me an amazing opportunity to spend time at the school and in the lab just focusing on research without worrying about anything else,” said alumna Hannah Mulhall ’15, right, who participated in several SURE summers, studying the effects of a blood substitute called OxyVita in mice. “I loved the time I spent here over the summer doing research. It is an opportunity that I will never forget.”
During the school year, the Division of Natural Sciences also often arranges for students to present their research at local and regional conferences. For the past eight years, Natural Science students have presented at the Eastern Colleges Science Conference, where Jacqueline Copeland ’17 won awards for “Outstanding Poster Presentation” and “Excellence in Innovation Research” in 2016 and an excellence award for her manuscript “Investigating Genetic Interactions Associated with Prp5 Using S. Ceravisiae as a Model” in 2017.
Copeland appreciated how dedicated Assistant Professor of Biology Evan Merkhofer was in challenging her to grow as a researcher and presenter. “Dr. Merkhofer is a wonderful mentor,” she noted. “He has played a major role in my development not only as a student but as a scientist in training. He helped me in coming out of my shell in terms of speaking in front of a group, and he’s always willing to help out no matter how busy he is.”
Putting the ‘field’ in field trip
At the Mount, sometimes the great outdoors becomes the classroom. Thankfully for our science students, the Mount is located in the scenic and scientifically-rich Hudson Valley, where students benefit from opportunities to participate in research at local preserves and the Hudson River.
For example, for several years, Associate Professor of Biology Suparna Bhalla and Professor of Chemistry Lynn Maelia have participated in the NYS DEC’s Citizen Science: American Eel Research project, bringing their freshman science students to Newburgh’s Quassaick Creek to aid in the state’s eel conservation efforts.
“Students often don’t see the connection between what they read in a book and the world around them,” Maelia explained. “It’s important for them to see that what they are learning has real-life applications.”
Maelia says that interacting with scientists from the DEC shows her students that what they learn at the Mount “can be used in many ways that they may not have envisioned. It opens up new possibilities and expands their view of how they can use their love of science.”
Additionally, Mount science students recently ran a workshop for students at the San Miguel Academy to analyze the health of the Hudson River.
The Mount student mentors worked with sixth graders from San Miguel to test pH, turbidity, chlorophyll, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, and phosphorus levels in the Hudson River as part of the New York State DEC’s “Day in the Life of the Hudson River.” The students also worked together to catch and identify fish with the help of a DEC representative.
The scientific family
All of these opportunities strengthen the tight bond that Mount Natural Science students have with one another.
Together, these students are consistently working in and out of the classroom, traveling to local and national conferences, and spending the summers working on collaborative research projects. One often finds Natural Science students studying or hanging out together in the division’s office, enjoying the camaraderie of shared experiences.
“From the moment I got here to today, everyone at the Mount has sought to include me and to make me part of the community,” notes senior Biology major Lily Goodman, “and that’s something I feel like I really couldn’t have found anywhere else.”
Junior Biology student Sarah Waleck added, “I genuinely feel that I have the professors in my corner, wanting nothing more than for me to succeed and providing me with all of the tools to do so.” The division “provides the students with the help, encouragement, and support that they need to thrive, not only in this field but in many aspects of life. Because of the small class sizes, the professors are also able to get to know their students on a more personal level and therefore better connect with them.”
Bhalla is most edified in her profession as an educator by the number of alumni who come back to say hello and catch up. “Students come back very often to drop by for a visit. They choose to take the time to come visit us. I don’t know what better testimony there is to the relationships we build with our students.”
Preparing for the real world
Division of Natural Sciences students have many areas in which they can apply their skills after graduation.
The pre-professional programs at the Mount, which prepare students to go into medical-related fields like medicine and dentistry and are mostly rooted in the Natural Sciences, are a great example of the plethora of opportunities that await graduating students.
Additionally, Natural Science students have the opportunity to declare a teacher education track at the Mount, preparing them to become future science educators.
Mary McEwan ’13 (right) now works for Somers High School as a chemistry teacher. She credits her Mount experiences, including being a SURE participant and having close relationships with faculty members, for helping her land her current position.
“The science division offered so many opportunities to guide me on my career path and recognize scholarship,” McEwan said. “By getting involved in the science department, I was able to make lasting connections with the faculty. And with the low faculty to student ratio, my professors had the opportunity to really get to know me. Their recommendation was highly regarded, and I know I wouldn’t have the job I have today without their help and support.”
For Merkhofer, the goal is to equip his students with every tool possible for success. “The wide array of opportunities at the Mount, both inside and outside of the classroom, prepare our students for their future careers,” he explains. “Whether it be taking courses in many different areas of Biology and Chemistry, participating in research during the school year and over the summer, or taking part in an internship through our Center for Career and Experiential Education, our students are ready to compete with anyone upon graduation.”
Be part of the scientific process
Are you interested in becoming part of the Natural Sciences family at the Mount? Learn more at an upcoming Admissions event. Register today at msmc.edu/rsvp