By SARA GIBONEY
KEARNEY – Faculty in the biology department at the University of Nebraska at Kearney believe that their success is only based on the successes of their students.
Which is why teachers in the department present rigorous coursework, encourage students to do independent research and offer hands-on learning.
“People here work really hard, and they care really hard too. They take their students into consideration,” said Kim Carlson, professor and associate chair of the biology department. “Faculty try to give the students the best possible education that they can. The rigor is there.
“Our successes are based upon the successes of our students.”
The Department of Biology received the University-wide Departmental Teaching Award (UDTA) from the University of Nebraska.
The UDTA originated in 1993 and is designed to recognize a department within the University of Nebraska that has made unique and significant contributions to the university’s teaching efforts. The honored department is awarded $25,000 to be used in a manner the department sees fit, such as for travel to a conference, instructional equipment or improvements to a classroom or student resource.
“This award recognizes the remarkable accomplishments of the current faculty and also pays tribute to those who had come before. The Department of Biology has long had a culture of professionalism, innovation, genuine hard work and above all, commitment to the highest possible quality in the student learning experience,” said Charlie Bicak, Senior Vice Chancellor of Academic and Student Affairs.
The biology department is home to more than 20 faculty, six graduate teaching assistants and nearly 700 undergraduate and graduate majors.
Students can choose comprehensive biology majors with a general emphasis, health science emphasis or wildlife biology emphasis. UNK is the only school in Nebraska to offer a molecular biology comprehensive major.
“The faculty in this department maintain very high standards, and they teach the students so that the students are prepared to tackle jobs or professional programs. Our students do have success after they leave UNK,” said biology professor Janet Steele.
Carlson said most faculty in the biology department keep an open-door policy, allowing students to come in for help with coursework or to talk at any time.
“While the biology department’s outstanding teaching has been instrumental to my success, the most helpful aspect of the biology department is their support and encouragement outside the classroom,” said graduate student Jeff Shaw of Edgar. “Biology professors take the time to get to know all of their students and ensure they succeed not only academically, but also personally and professionally,”
In an effort to use technology to better serve students, the biology department launched an online master’s degree program. UNK was one of the first universities in the country to offer an online master’s degree in biology. Nearly 500 students are enrolled in the program, Steele said.
But hands-on learning and research are at the heart of the department.
The majority of students in the biology department participate in independent research. And students enrolled in the online master’s degree program are required to complete a research project, and do so with the help of a faculty mentor.
“The Department of Biology engaged students in undergraduate research over 40 years ago. This legacy continues today,” Bicak said. “Student projects are distributed across the range of biology including the molecular, organismal and ecological levels. Graduates in biology are well prepared for professional positions in industry, with government agencies, for post-graduate health programs and for graduate school.”
The department was honored during a luncheon Tuesday (April 15).
“The award is meaningful because it does demonstrate that we are doing a really great job in what we like to do, which is teach and train students. We’re a large department with diverse personalities, and the science is diverse. For someone to say you’re the best in the university for this year, that means a lot,” Carlson said.
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