Life Science

From Features & Blogs

Life ScienceIn 2009 Schreiner University identified three signature programs that have demonstrated strength, value and the potential to make the University stand out among its peer institutions: Integrity Ambassadors in Business, Graphic Design and Life Sciences. SCENE magazine has taken a closer look at the business and graphic design programs in earlier issues. In this issue, we take a look at Life Sciences and its newest component, field biology.

Even before Schreiner started thinking in terms of signature programs, the University’s medical pre-professional programs had an enviable reputation for successfully sending students on to medical schools and further training. Almost 100 percent of the Schreiner students who apply to medical school are accepted, compared with a state average of 38 percent.

Most of those students were biology or biochemistry majors, two disciplines that now fall under the Life Sciences signature program, as does Schreiner’s new Bachelor of Science degree in nursing.

Also new to Life Sciences as of 2010 and the arrival of Dr. Chris Distel, assistant professor of biology, is an emphasis on field biology, the environmental (organismal) track within biology, a discipline that also includes a cellular or cell molecular track.

“Field biology is the study of organisms as they interact in natural systems,” said Dr. Diana Comuzzie, professor of biology and dean of the Trull School of Sciences & Mathematics. “The emphasis is not on the cell, but on the whole organism—it’s more complex, a big picture.”

“Field biology is an understanding of life as it works in the environmental sense, with an emphasis on science,” Dr. Distel added. “It’s particularly important because most people are not environmentally aware and we wanted to provide our students majoring in biology with a directed field of study other than pre-professional.”

On a practical level, field biology is pretty much just what it says: biology out in the field. In this case the field is the rich and complex ecological community, or biome, of the Texas Hill Country.

“The Hill Country is a unique biome,” Comuzzie said. “Our location offers us great opportunities for study, which is one reason we are developing the field biology program. We have a history of organized research and field biology was an area in which we knew we could build strength.”

Field biology students do their work both in and out of the classroom, and it’s not all catching tadpoles or analyzing water from the Guadalupe. In the spring, Dr. Distel and nine of his students developed a curriculum for The Riverside Nature Center in Kerrville. The center wanted to expand its popular Junior Naturalists program for students in grades K-3 with a program for 4th and 5th graders. In addition to designing the curriculum, the students, along with Dr. Distel, will also be teaching the classes.

“This is the beginning of a long-term educational relationship that we intend to maintain with The Riverside Nature Center,” Distel said.

In conjunction with the Texas Water Symposium meeting at Schreiner in the spring, Distel and his students provided hands-on workshops for local high school students.

Distel also heads up laboratory research with students, including a project on armored catfish, an invasive species, investigating whether they are detrimental to local amphibians. The field biology program has three ongoing research projects that involve faculty and students and Distel plans to add two more this year.

“Chris has great ideas,” Comuzzie said. “He comes up with brilliant ideas and he’s very excited about his students. The field biology program is innovative and attractive to students. It’s just cool.”