Richard Niesenbaum and Dan Skoczylas ’06 examine their findings in a lab at the Graver Arboretum.

(continued...)

For Niesenbaum, interaction with students—especially through collaborative research— is at the heart of his love for the job. “Many times I will have first-year students come in and ask me about getting involved in my research,” Niesenbaum says. “I’ll give them one of my research proposals to analyze, and they will bring it back with comments and suggestions. I make it clear that I’m always the teacher, but I welcome them to challenge me. My goal is to always keep learning.” Evidence of this thirst for knowledge is seen in Niesenbaum’s full-year commitment to students. Just after the end of spring semester, he and Dr. Tammy Lewis, sociology/anthropology department head, travel to Costa Rica with a group of students to study environmental and cultural conservation in developing Latin America. During the summer, Niesenbaum oversees a group of research students.

While it is hard to imagine many things more exciting than the record-large NSF grant, another event that begins this year will have a huge impact on the biology department. In early summer 2005, ground will be broken for creation of a new science facility and renovation of the existing Trumbower and Shankweiler buildings. The multi-million dollar project, which includes a significant expansion of Seegers Union, will result in more than 67,000 square feet of new and renovated space on the west end of campus. The goal is for occupation of the new science building by fall 2006. “When this project is complete,” says Niesenbaum, “our facilities will be equal to the extremely high caliber of our programs, faculty and students.” The design of the facility, he adds, will make it easier for students to get a broader sense of what’s going on in the sciences at Muhlenberg. And for nostalgic alumni, good news: the “bridge” between Trumbower and Shankweiler will remain, although in a much more elegant and functional form. And the beloved Polar Bear? “He’ll find a home somewhere,” Niesenbaum predicts.

Biology Faculty / Areas of Expertise
Mary Byrne Anatomy/Laboratory Instruction
Chrysan Cronin Laboratory Instruction/Human Biology
Marten Edwards Cell Biology/Entomology/Molecular Biology
Amy Hark Biochemistry/Developmental Genetics
Erika Iyengar Ecology/Marine and Aquatic Biology
Daniel Klem Ornithology/Ecology/Ethology
Elizabeth McCain Developmental Biology/Microscopy
Paul Meier Physiology/Animal Behavior
David Much Microbiology/Immunology
Richard Niesenbaum Botany/Ecology/Conservation Biology
Jeremy Teissere Neuroscience/Biochemistry
Margaret Tsao Laboratory Instruction/Human Biology
Bruce Wightman Molecular Biology/Genetics/Neuroscience

Considering all that Muhlenberg’s biology department has to offer, its accomplishments should not be too surprising. It’s an integral part of a pre-health program that enjoys an annual medical school acceptance rate in excess of 85%. It features graduate-level equipment such as two electron microscopes and a DNA sequencer, which will soon be housed in state- of-the art labs. According to Niesenbaum, “Our faculty are doing cutting-edge, externally funded research here, and students are a major part of it. Because of that, we’ve been recognized by the outside scientific community—people are talking about Muhlenberg!”

Another part of what has fueled biology’s rocket-ride to success, however, is much more personal. Anyone who has ever talked with Niesenbaum realizes that he embodies the ethos of the department he heads: passionate teaching. Whether speaking about his students’ research or the department’s plans for the million-dollar NSF grant, Niesenbaum’s excitement and fervor are evident. With colleagues and students who share Niesenbaum’s zeal for teaching and learning, the biology department’s good year is undoubtedly just the start of a great century.

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