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Saint Leo 360 Podcast

Episode 46: Saint Leo’s BS in Biology Degree Program (Education & Chemistry Minors)

Posted by Greg Lindberg on October 12, 2021
Episode 46: Saint Leo’s BS in Biology Degree Program (Education & Chemistry Minors)

Download Episode 46 Transcript

speaker 1:
Saint Leo 360, a 360 degree overview of the Saint Leo University community.

Greg Lindberg:
Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Saint Leo 360 Podcast. This is your host, Greg Lindberg. Here on this episode of the Saint Leo 360 Podcast, we are discussing our bachelor of science in biology degree program here at Saint Leo University. And we have two great guests joining us here on the podcast, to discuss two areas of focus within this biology program. And we will be chatting about chemistry, as well as STEM education, and these two great tracks that our bio students can pursue here. And first I'd like to introduce professor Cheryl Barry, who is an instructor of biology and life sciences here at Saint Leo. Professor Barry, welcome.

Cheryl Berry:
Hi. Thank you, Greg. I appreciate the opportunity to come and speak with you and inform everybody about our biology program, and the ability to focus on STEM education in the biology program.

Greg Lindberg:
Absolutely. Thanks so much for your time. And we also have Dr. Patrick Sheridan, who is an associate professor of chemistry here at Saint Leo. Dr. Sheridan, welcome.

Dr Patrick Sheridan:
Hi, Greg. Thank you for the opportunity to speak about the chemistry and biology programs at Saint Leo.

Greg Lindberg:
Absolutely. Thank you for your time as well. So let's go ahead and start with professor Barry. And speaking about some of the education opportunities, the education track and minor, that biology students can pursue here at Saint Leo. So professor Barry, let's just start off with a brief bio about yourself and your personal and professional background.

Cheryl Berry:
Of course. Well, as you had noted, I am an instructor in the biology department and teach biology and life science classes here at Saint Leo, in the natural sciences department. I've been at the university for five years, but I have over 15 years of experience with science education at all levels, K through 12 at both public and private schools, in addition to higher education. I'm alumni of Saint Leo University. I completed my bachelor of science degree in environmental science, which was a program at the time, and a master of science and instructional design, both at Saint Leo. I have a master of education curriculum [inaudible 00:02:46] University of South Florida, and a doctoral candidate currently for DED in STEM leadership curriculum. So my family and I have lived and worked in Pasco County for 22 years, and I have two sons currently in college.

Greg Lindberg:
Got you. Very cool. And hey, we love to have our alumni return to the university to teach. So we're really glad to have you. In terms of the history of the bio program, I understand we've had this program just in general terms for quite a while. I don't know if you have anything to mention about just the history of this program and how respected it really is.

Cheryl Berry:
Right. So our biology program has been established for a while. Our science department has been newly named to the natural science department. And within that, we have three biology tracks. We have a biomedical track, we have a general biology track, and we have an ecology track. So what that means is there's core classes within the programs, that students take. In addition, they take different electives that will fulfill the requirements of their chosen track. In regards to the education, the STEM ed program, I am a co-director of the ACES program, which stands for awarding career educators in STEM. This is a program, an NSF, [inaudible 00:04:16] teaching scholarship program for STEM plus ed majors. And we are in our second of the fifth year of funding by the national science foundation. The main goal of this program, which is funded by the NSF grant here at Saint Leo, is to graduate students who are highly qualified in both their STEM content, which would be biology and math major, and educational skills. So in short, we make sure students know their STEM content, and how to teach it to others.

Greg Lindberg:
Absolutely. That's wonderful. And then just to clarify, so this bio program is strictly offered at university campus, correct?

Cheryl Berry:
Yes. It's a university home campus program, that's in person in our biology program, because of the nature of the classes and the labs associated with it are strictly campus.

Greg Lindberg:
Got you. I see. As far as some of the topics and courses covered in this program and focusing specifically on the education minor, the education track, if you will, let's get into some of the specifics of those.

Cheryl Berry:
Sure. When we talk STEM, again, I'm referring to both biology majors, and math majors here, even though I'm within the biology department. So both majors are required to take all of their courses to be a STEM ed major. All of the courses within their own major, which makes them highly knowledgeable within their chosen STEM content. And they're also required to get a minor in education. So these students that major in biology or math will take education courses that include topics such as classroom management, teaching diverse students. And they also participate in internships at local schools, teaching, getting experience, teaching STEM content.

Greg Lindberg:
Very interesting. So they really get in a way, the best of both worlds when it comes to the bio side and the education side.

Cheryl Berry:
Right. We find that the students and... One school of thought is there's no better way to learn yourself than to teach it to others. So we find that happening in our students.

Greg Lindberg:
Exactly. Well said. As far as the faculty who teach in this program, if you just want to give kind of an overview of the faculty, I know we've got several and quite interesting and accomplished backgrounds among our faculty.

Cheryl Berry:
Right. Yes. I'm very fortunate. If I just speak about the STEM ed team, it's interdisciplinary, which is a benefit to our students. We specifically are a three person team. Dr. Laura Altfeld, who is a professor in the biology program. Her specialty is ecology, and she's also the chair of our department. She is the director of the program. Another co-director along with myself is Dr. Holly Atkins, who is the chair of the education department. So the three of us as a team, in addition to providing an opportunity through this grant, which is tuition based. So qualified students can receive tuition assistance in both their junior and senior year. But in addition to that, the three of us provide these scholars in our program, mentoring, micro-teaching, or varied teaching opportunities and informal and formal settings, because not all teaching has to be in a classroom. You can teach informally at different parks and extension programs, at museums and all kinds of places. We help them prepare for Florida teaching certification tests. And we continue the support when they enter their first year of teaching, which is very critical for retention [inaudible 00:08:16] teachers.

Greg Lindberg:
Absolutely. No doubt. I know that we do offer several opportunities on campus for students to be involved in clubs, honor societies, things outside of the classroom. If you want to speak about those a little bit.

Cheryl Berry:
Certainly. So our scholars are pretty much open to participate in any of those extracurricular clubs. Specifically, there's a math club on campus that math students participate in. And for us within the science department, tribe beta is the science club that most of our students participate in. So they meet, they have efforts in mentoring each other, have guest speakers. They take efforts to extend their learning beyond the college, into the field with other experts within the field.

Greg Lindberg:
Right. Very interesting. And I know we have touched a little bit already on career opportunities in the STEM teaching arena. If you just want to dive a little more into those as far as potentially, which levels, which grades a graduate could potentially teach STEM, and perhaps even some other opportunities maybe outside the traditional classroom setting.

Cheryl Berry:
Yeah. So the scholarship opportunity that we have with our team through the ACES program, is for qualifying juniors and seniors, that are US citizens. It's set by NSF guidelines, 3.0 or higher GPA, that they can receive up to $18,000 tuition assistance for their junior and senior year, upon agreement of teaching a year in a high needs school district for every year of academic support. So if you got the tuition scholarship for two years, you would teach for four years. Our hopes are that our scholars will enter the teaching profession and find it rewarding, and stay in there. But the reality is, they're very highly qualified. And if they find that teaching their first professional choice isn't something they want to do long term, they would either have a biology or a math degree that makes them very marketable for other professions.

Cheryl Berry:
So depending on which track of course, within the biology program, if you were biomedical or general or even... The ecology would kind of determine the professions, but some ideas for professions that you can go into, would be health careers. Most definitely, pharmaceutical, food science, environmental science, even forensics, field work, environmental assessment, research, lab work. All of those things, Saint Leo's biology program would prepare you for easily. And our math program, I'll speak for them in the limited knowledge I have. But I know with the math degrees, accountants, finance, actuaries, banking, market research, are all very good careers that one can do with a mathematics degree.

Greg Lindberg:
Absolutely. So certainly, a lot of potential tracks, avenues, when it comes to careers.

Cheryl Berry:
Yes. An addition that I understand from the math major, that the critical thinking that that degree provides, even if you're not in a mathematical profession when you graduate, that degree makes you very marketable overall in a chosen profession.

Greg Lindberg:
Sure. I see. And then in addition to careers, if a graduate of this bio program with say, the STEM education focus is interested in graduate school or graduate studies, what kind of opportunities, what kind of options would that individual have?

Cheryl Berry:
Yeah. So all of our majors are biology and math majors. We don't within either department have at Saint Leo, a graduate program in biology or math, but our programs allow for transfer easily into higher level graduate programs at other universities. As of now, of course, education, those degrees, someone can go into educational leadership. And then curriculum and instruction is another common track that one can pursue with STEM education.

Greg Lindberg:
Sure. I see. Very interesting. And then just to wrap up this segment of the podcast, what would you say separates our biology program? And again, perhaps the STEM education focus from other programs out there.

Cheryl Berry:
In my opinion, what sets Saint Leo aside from other programs is really two things, that makes me very proud to teach here and be part of that. Especially the first is the small class and lab size that we have. I teach a lot at biology labs, and they cap out at 18 students. So students get one on one interaction instruction with their professors, experts in the field. And I truly believe this builds a very strong foundation in their content area, and in their scientific skills and scientific [inaudible 00:13:50] usage in the lab. So I think that that is an excellent trait that we can offer students.

Cheryl Berry:
The second one is I think, we offer opportunities in undergraduate biology research, here in both molecular and field, that undergraduate students can participate in and participate in early on, which isn't always available to them. So we have professors within our department that do research on cancer, on phage hunters. So they look for viruses that infect, bacteria, and we have ecology track professors that do the mangrove research. So our undergrads are able to get in the field and get publications and engage in research early on.

Greg Lindberg:
Absolutely. Very well summarized. All right. I appreciate that insight, Professor Barry. So let's go ahead and turn over to Dr. Patrick Sheridan here. If you want to give kind of a bio about yourself as well, Dr. Sheridan.

Dr Patrick Sheridan:
I agree. Yes. So I'm originally from New Jersey, and I went to college in New Jersey at Stockton College. At the time, it was a small college and it's on the coast. It currently has a university status, but something that's still the same is that they value small class size and close faculty student interactions. And so I graduated from Stockton with BS and chemistry degree, and it was ACS certified by the American Chemical Society. And so what that means is that I did a lot of extra research and I had the opportunity to take a number of upper level courses, organic chemistry, medicinal chemistry, physical chemistry, analytical chemistry and such. Then I moved on to do my doctorate in organic chemistry at Tulane. That's where I met my wife, and we've moved along across the country over the years.

Dr Patrick Sheridan:
And so we've gone from Louisiana to upstate New York, to Tennessee and Kentucky over the last 10 years. And then we ended up in Florida back in 2018. So this is my fourth year at Saint Leo, and my 17th year teaching organic chemistry. So it's been a little while. And that's pretty much what I do basically teach at Saint Leo is, the organic chemistry sequence to lecture in the lab courses.

Greg Lindberg:
Got you. And wow, you've definitely been around the block, all different climates and areas of the country.

Dr Patrick Sheridan:
Oh yeah. Yeah. I think next year I'll have lived half of my life in the South.

Greg Lindberg:
Wow. Yeah. And so in terms of the biology program, just give me your overview, your perspective on the program in general terms.

Dr Patrick Sheridan:
Yeah. So just as a little footnote. I don't teach the biology courses, so I just teach chemistry courses, or organic chemistry in the minor. So my perspective related to the biology program is that we have a lot of great students that come in, and they have a variety of options that they can take for track, for education, for biomedical work, for ecology. And then we've got this great NSF grant to help students that want to perhaps one day become educator. And so from my point of view, I come in with the chemistry side, and we work with those students to help strengthen their laboratory skills, their analytical ability, their problem solving ability, and it's an extra little feature for them.

Greg Lindberg:
I got you. Very interesting. In terms of perspective students. I know we kind of touched on this a little bit with professor Barry, but as far as a chemistry focus, a chemistry minor, what kind of perspective students would you say are a good fit for this program?

Dr Patrick Sheridan:
The biology students, of course, we have so many tracks to choose from, but when it comes to students that want to perhaps take more classes in chemistry, typically, those are the kids that are just curious about everything around them as it relates to things at the molecular level. So students that are happy to be in the lab, happy to work with chemicals, some of those stinky things, and hopefully they just love to share their love of science with everybody else too.

Greg Lindberg:
Sure. Very interesting. And then when it comes to specific courses, specific topics, let's dive a little further into what students really focus on in terms of the chemistry minor.

Dr Patrick Sheridan:
Sure. So with the chemistry minor, the students are required to take 20 hours in chemistry. They've got the standard general chemistry and laboratory sequence. Then they move on to organic chemistry and the associated labs. Then they have the option to complete the minor by either taking a quantitative analysis course with its lab, or they could take the environmental chemistry option with its lab, and that would round out the 20 hours they would need for the minor. We're hoping within the next couple of years to actually expand our offerings and create a bachelor's level degree, a BA in chemistry. And if that's possible, then we'd have more upper level options and laboratories. So we'd expand to include inorganic chemistry, more analytical chemistry courses and physical chemistry. Just like most other programs at Saint Leo, we'd also have a senior seminar or a capstone course for the students.

Greg Lindberg:
Wow. Very interesting. And definitely an exciting possibility, let's hope. As far as the faculty who teach in this program, talk to me about just the faculty, their backgrounds. Again, I know we're very strong in chemistry as well.

Dr Patrick Sheridan:
Sure. So we have two chemistry faculty who have PhDs in their disciplines, and an instructor of chemistry who has a master's degree in chemistry. So the two PhD professors, there's Dr. Williams. His background is in analytical chemistry, and he earned his doctorate at the University of South Florida. Then there's Dr. Darren Bell, who I believe earned his PhD in chemistry at Wake Forest University. And his background is in inorganic chemistry. We also have the instructor who helps out with the number of classes from organic to general chemistry, to environmental work. And so Professor Robbins has been with us for a number of years. I think that her strength is in analytical chemistry.

Greg Lindberg:
Got you. Very interesting. Quite a nice swath and again, very strong backgrounds. Again, and when it comes to chemistry and certainly under the bio major, I know that students do have opportunities for honor societies for different clubs, organizations to be involved in. Anything you want to mention there?

Dr Patrick Sheridan:
Sure. So just like Professor Barry had mentioned that there are many opportunities for students to engage in clubs and extracurriculars, but we do have tribe beta. And so they do tend to offer a number of outreach experiences for students. And in the coming years, we're hoping that if we can expand the chemistry offerings, we'll be able to create a student affiliates group for the American Chemical Society. And we would have some fundraisers, some activities on campus, but one of the big things is, we do community outreach to elementary schools and to middle schools. And so national chemistry week always occurs around Halloween. And they've always got an interesting theme that we work into our chemistry demonstrations so we can share the love of science with students.

Greg Lindberg:
Very cool. That's awesome. And then in terms of career opportunities with the bio degree and the chemistry focus, let's talk about some potential opportunities, some potential tracks that graduates could pursue.

Dr Patrick Sheridan:
Sure. A large number of the students I think come to Saint Leo and they're very interested in some area of healthcare professions, that might include going off to become maybe a medical doctor, or a pharmacist, a dentist, somewhere in the realm of nursing, but with the background in biology and the little ascent of adding on that chemistry minor, that really makes the students pretty versatile and able to adapt to a number of different potential job situations. So for instance, they might consider, of course, as Professor Barry had mentioned, doing something in the area of forensic science or agricultural science. Something that's kind of nifty is they might even consider being an art restorer, doing art restoration. There's areas of course, in environmental science and petroleum chemistry. So they do very well. And then in the local area, like in many places across the country, we have students that are very much interested in distilleries. And so someone might get interested in creating their own brew, a micro brew or bourbon and such.

Greg Lindberg:
Wow. That's once again, something I never would've thought of but can certainly be applicable and then relevant. And then if a graduate of this program with the chemistry minor is interested in graduate school, what kind of options, what kind of opportunities would you say that that individual has?

Dr Patrick Sheridan:
Well, at the moment, because we only offer the chemistry minor. I think that would be very helpful if a student wanted to go on and perhaps pursue a master's degree, especially in education. So if the student wanted to go into teaching, it'd be very helpful if they wanted to teach biology or chemistry at the high school level. Even elementary or middle would be great too. If a student wanted to go on for a doctorate in chemistry, they'd really need a stronger foundation and access to more of those advanced courses that I mentioned earlier. So that would be great if we're able to get the BA level program off the ground, and then we could funnel students into perhaps a PhD level program.

Greg Lindberg:
Absolutely. Well said. And then to wrap up here, I did want to give you the opportunity to just give your perspective on what separates this biology program from others out there.

Dr Patrick Sheridan:
Sure. As professor Barry had mentioned earlier, I think that what drew me to the university is that we have this small class size, and there's the ability for students to make really good connections with their professors. We work one on one. For many of us, the students know us by our first name and call us by our first name. We know all of their names. We're vested in how well they do and what they become when they grow up and leave Saint Leo University. So there's really a strong bonding connection there that brings us together. Along with that is the opportunity for the professors to share their love of science and research with the students. And that takes on many forms. The faculty are actively engaged in many different projects throughout the academic year.

Dr Patrick Sheridan:
Prior to the COVID situation, we had an active summer undergraduate research experience for students, and that was really enjoyed by faculty and the students who participated. Professor Duffy has this really fantastic program going on with Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and students are investigating or discovering new viruses that are located in local soil samples. So there's just a really broad range of opportunities for our students. There's sort of something for everybody here, that they can find something they might want to get very invested in.

Greg Lindberg:
I did want to mention, you can check these show notes for this episode, for those interested in potentially pursuing this biology degree program here at Saint Leo University. And [inaudible 00:25:31] certainly include information on both the chemistry minor as well as education. So again, would really like to thank professor Cheryl Barry.

Cheryl Berry:
Thank you, Greg.

Greg Lindberg:
As well as Dr. Patrick Sheridan for your time.

Dr Patrick Sheridan:
Thank you, Greg.

Greg Lindberg:
And insight, and really appreciate you joining us here on the podcast.

Cheryl Berry:
Absolutely. It was great sharing the information. I appreciate the time.

Greg Lindberg:
Absolutely. Alrighty. Thanks guys so much.

speaker 1:
To hear more episodes of the Saint Leo 360 Podcast, visit saintleo.edu/podcast. To learn more about Saint Leo's programs and services, call 877-622-2009, or visit saintleo.edu.

Episode Summary

In this episode of the Saint Leo 360 podcast, we discuss the biology degree program at Saint Leo University and two areas of focus within this undergraduate program – STEM education and chemistry. Our guests are Prof. Cheryl Berry, an instructor of biology and life sciences, and Dr. Patrick Sheridan, an associate professor of chemistry. The two professors talked about:

  • Their personal and professional backgrounds
  • Their teaching careers and journey to Saint Leo
  • A brief history and general overview of the biology degree program at Saint Leo
  • Where the program is offered
  • Types of students this program is intended for
  • An overview of courses and topics covered in the education and chemistry minors
  • An overview of the faculty who teach in the program and these two specific tracks
  • Relevant campus organizations, honor societies, and clubs for students interested in biology and the natural sciences
  • The ACES Scholars program and a significant scholarship opportunity for students pursuing STEM teaching careers
  • Career opportunities with a bachelor’s in biology degree and specific tracks for STEM education and chemistry students
  • Pursuing graduate studies with a biology degree
  • What sets Saint Leo’s biology degree program apart from others

Links & Resources

Learn more about the biology degree program at Saint Leo University on the degree program page.

Find out more about the education minor available to biology majors.

Learn more about the chemistry minor.

Find out if you or your student may qualify for the ACES Scholars program.

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