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Saint Leo 360 Podcast

Episode 47: Saint Leo’s BS in Biology Degree Program (Ecology, Biomedical Sciences, & Medical Humanities)

Posted by Greg Lindberg on October 26, 2021
Saint Leo 360 Podcast Ep 47 Biology Ecology Biomedical-Graphic

Download Episode 47 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 Linberg. Here on this episode of the podcast, we are featuring part two of our biology degree program discussion. On the last episode, we spoke about the chemistry and the STEM education tracks, and minors within the bachelor's in biology program. And so on this episode, we are speaking about biomedical sciences, medical humanities, as well as ecology. And so first I'd like to introduce Dr. Cheryl Kozina, who is an associate professor of biology here at Saint Leo. Welcome.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Greg Lindberg:
Absolutely. And we also have Dr. William Ellis with us, who is also an associate professor of biology. Dr. Ellis, welcome.

Dr. William Ellis:
Thank you. Nice to be here.

Greg Lindberg:
Absolutely. All right. So Dr. Kozina, we're going to start with you and just kind of focus on the biomedical sciences and the medical humanities aspects. And so first off, let's just get into kind of a brief bio of yourself, both personally and professionally.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
Sure thing. So I grew up outside of Chicago, so nice, cold Illinois. And I went to a small school, actually very similar in size to Saint Leo. I went to Illinois Wesleyan, so we had about 2,000 students. And I think we usually started off with about 150 biology majors there. So very much at home at Saint Leo because of how similar it was to where I went to school. And there, I majored in biology. And we didn't have tracks, so everyone was a general biology major there, which was kind of fun. I took some classes I probably wouldn't have had we had some tracks in vertebrate zoology, which is not my specialty, but Dr. Ellis's specialty. So classes like that. It was a lot of fun for that reason. And then after Illinois Wesleyan, I went to Emory University for my PhD, and worked under Dr. Paul Doetsch, studying DNA repair. And then after that, I did two post-docs at the University of Pittsburgh. Again, still studying DNA repair and DNA damage, which is my specialty. So how that relates to cancer and aging.

Greg Lindberg:
Gotcha. Very unique background.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
Thank you.

Greg Lindberg:
And then in terms of your teaching career, talk to me about getting into teaching and your journey to Saint Leo University.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
So I didn't do a whole lot of formal teaching. The way PhDs work sometimes, unfortunately, is they want you in the lab, and doing lab work, and very little teaching. So during my graduate work, I think I did one semester teaching a lab and that was about it. And otherwise, my boss wanted me in the lab, but I had some supportive post-doc advisors who would try to give me teaching assignments here and there to help me out and give me a little bit more experience. But as far as formal teaching jobs, Saint Leo is my first. So I came right here after doing my post-docs and have been here ever since.

Greg Lindberg:
Wow. Very neat. How long have you been now with Saint Leo?

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
I started in August of 2013. So quite a while at this point.

Greg Lindberg:
Wow. Eight, nine years. Yeah. Very cool. And then, so in terms of the bachelor's in biology program, just talked to me about ... Kind of give us an introduction from your perspective of the program and kind of its reputation.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
And I'll refer to Dr. Ellis a little bit on this since he's been at Saint Leo longer than me. When I came to Saint Leo, we already had the three tracks. So we have our biomedical, our general, and our ecology tracks. And so I came in with that already in place, but I was heavily involved in the development of our medical humanities major, which is a separate degree program that's housed in interdisciplinary studies. And so we worked for a couple of years on that major, and it was finally approved beginning in the 2019, 2020 school year. And that has two tracks. One that's really relevant to biology is our pre-med track. And then we also have a health humanities track as well.

Greg Lindberg:
Gotcha, I see. And then so in terms of both the bio program, as well as medical humanities, these are both specifically offered at university campus, correct?

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
That's correct. So I will say from my own point of view, I think lab classes especially, there's something to be said for being hands-on. We joked about it in graduate school and called it lab hands. And it's something that you can only really learn by doing. So it'd be very hard to put those types of courses online. That being said, our health humanities, medical humanities track is now offered online, but that one is not lab heavy, so that's not meant for pre-med students. And so there is a version of that that is online.

Greg Lindberg:
I see, very interesting. As far as the prospective students go in terms of focusing on that biomedical sciences track of the bio program, or the medical humanities program, what kind of prospective students, how would you describe that prospect, the ideal kind of student for either of these programs?

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
Sure, so for the biomedical track in biology, that could cover a whole host of different students, that could be students that are interested in the pre-health professions. So those who are looking at going to medical school, or becoming a physician's assistant, or a dentist, a veterinarian. But it could also be for students who are looking to do research in biology related fields. So going onto graduate school, or even students who want to do laboratory research, but not attend graduate school. So go right from college, into a position in the lab.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
For me, if I were coming to Saint Leo now as a student, knowing that I enjoy molecular biology, that DNA repair genetics, I would have done biomedical health because it is so focused on the type of coursework that I enjoy. So it doesn't have to just be for people who are interested in attending pre-health professional programs.

Greg Lindberg:
Gotcha.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
Now, that being said, I think for a medical humanities, it is definitely geared more towards the pre-health professions. So we designed it specifically with the necessary science coursework to prepare someone to take the MCAT exam. So the set exam that you take before medical school. So it's not as science heavy as the biomedical track in biology, but it would still get a student ready to take the MCAT exam.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
But we do have students in that major who are looking at becoming physician's assistants, physical therapists. A lot of students like it because there's a psychology component to it that they don't have in the biology track. And so I think they like that part of it for physical therapy, patient advocates, or healthcare law or policy, social work, medical writing. So because medical humanities does include coursework in other areas like psychology or sociology, philosophy and art, it does allow for a broader education for different career paths, I think.

Greg Lindberg:
Right. I see, very interesting. Let's dive a little further into the coursework. In terms of both the biomedical courses within the bio program, as well as medical humanities, if you just want to talk about some examples of courses.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
Sure thing. In the biomedical sciences, they're going to take the core biology courses that everyone takes, whether they're general or ecology track, but they'll also have courses in biochemistry and microbiology. So again, gearing more towards that health side of things. But then they'll have a choice of what other coursework they want to take. And this is where things can get really fun.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
We have things like invertebrate zoology, or animal physiology. A lot of our pre-vet students take those courses. Invertebrate zoology is anything without a backbone. It's real broad. Dr. Ellis can expand on that too. It's great for things like parasites that you might encounter in your patients. We also have courses in medicinal botany, cancer biology, virology, biotechnology, so a whole host of courses that the students can choose from to sort of fine-tune what they want to do with their education.

Greg Lindberg:
Right. I see.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
And then likewise for medical humanities, the students still do get a lot of choice in what they do. In addition to the biology coursework in the pre-med track, that's again, meant to prepare the student for that MCAT exam. So they would have genetics, biochemistry, but also four semesters of chemistry and two semesters of physics. They then have other coursework in things like bioethics. We have categories of classes that they pick from like social, artistic, historical, and philosophical.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
So for example, for historical, right now, we have a class, medicine and madness. So looking at some history of medicine as it relates to different points in history and different, sometimes scary, treatments that were used at different points in history.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
We have, under social, as I mentioned, a lot of things like psychology and sociology coursework that helps our physical therapy students. A lot of physical therapy schools wants you to have that psychology background because you're treating someone with an injury. It might have been a career ending injury. It might have been related to, who knows? War. And so we really want them to have that psychology background as well. And then, yeah, like I said, artistic, philosophical coursework as well. Us being Saint Leo, under the philosophical category, we do have some religion coursework that they can choose from if they want to.

Greg Lindberg:
Wow. So quite a few options, and it sounds like a lot of flexibility as well.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Greg Lindberg:
Gotcha, very nice.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
Definitely.

Greg Lindberg:
As far as the faculty who teach both in the bio program, as well as medical humanities, just give us kind of an overview of their background, their experience, and just what they bring to the table.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
So in the biomedical health track of biology, this is going to be almost completely covered by our natural sciences faculty, depending on specialty. Obviously, our chemists are teaching the chemistry courses, our biologists teaching the biology courses. We do have a little bit of math coursework, so they are a separate department now. But this is, again, very science heavy. And so it is going to be covered by the science faculty. But what's nice is that we all have different backgrounds, we have different specialties, and so they get to kind of rotate through a bunch of us with different research interests, different backgrounds, and different things we've studied in the past. And so they do get a nice feel for a lot of different potential career paths that they could take.

Greg Lindberg:
Right. I see.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
And then for medical humanities, again, because we have those courses that are more interdisciplinary, we have faculty in philosophy, religion, history, art, English, psychology, sociology, social work. It really, it runs the gamut. I mean, we really do have a lot of different specialties that contribute to that program, which is really nice.

Greg Lindberg:
Gotcha. I know that students also have the opportunity to be involved in TriBeta, the TriBeta Honor Society, and some other internship opportunities. And anything you want to mention in terms of outside of the classroom and in those opportunities?

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
Yeah, I would say we have that TriBeta Honor Society. And it's not just for the biology majors. I believe at least one of the executive board members right now is a medical humanities major. So it's really just about your biology coursework that you've taken and your grades in those classes. And so it doesn't have to be exclusive to biology majors. They're very welcoming to everyone. And I think we used to have a pre-med club. It might have merged with TriBeta. It sort of depends on the number of students we have at any given time with various interests. But I know TriBeta does try to bring in speakers from various careers, including medical doctors, as well as research folks.

Greg Lindberg:
Right. Very nice. So I know we did touch on several potential career tracks with these areas of focus, areas of study, but when it comes to graduate school, what kind of opportunities out there, outside of Saint Leo, would somebody have to pursue say a master's, a PhD, with some type of biomedical science or medical humanities focus?

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
Yeah. So I think one thing that I would really say is if students are interested in doing graduate work with the focus on doing research, they need research experience. I distinctly remember the very first question I was asked in every single interview for graduate school was, "Tell me about your research." So obviously you need to be able to answer that question.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
So we do have faculty at Saint Leo who do research. We've also had many students who have gone out and gotten summer research opportunities. There's many of these around the country. These are typically at big research institutions, so they would give the student a nice feel for what those types of labs look like, where you have everything from post-docs and research faculty down to graduate students, undergrads, and volunteers. So it's really nice to apply for those types of things as well. But there are folks around here who do research too.

Greg Lindberg:
Gotcha.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
And then anyone looking to go into a pre-health professional program at a minimum needs to be looking at shadowing. So following someone around who does that job. So you think you want to be, I don't know, an obstetrician? What does that entail on a day-to-day basis? Or you want to be a physical therapist? What does that look like? And so shadowing is almost always a prerequisite of these programs, but also volunteer work can look really nice on an application.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
Some programs actually want not just volunteering or shadowing, but patient contact experience, where you have to actually have a job where you're in some way involved in patient care. So this could be working as a paramedic or a certified nursing assistant, a medical scribe. And I think a lot of students don't know that coming in, and all of a sudden they're in their junior year and say, "What do you mean I need patient contact hours?" At some of these schools, they require upwards of 1,000, 2,000 hours. That's a year of working in that field. It's sort of the expectation that students would take a year off to work in patient contact and then apply for these programs. So it's really important for students to get to know their advisors and talk to us about what their career goals are, so that we can direct them accordingly and get them understanding what's going to be required and what their actual timeline is for these graduate applications.

Greg Lindberg:
Exactly. And I know Saint Leo in general prides itself on that one-on-one support from the faculty. And I would imagine your department and your team are very hands-on with the students and will help guide them in whatever way necessary.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
Absolutely.

Greg Lindberg:
Cool. Okay. So to just wrap up this segment, any final words just about, in general, what separates Saint Leo from others out there and with a focus on these programs?

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
Sure. I think, again, as I said, in my background, I'm a big advocate of small schools. I went to a small school. I wanted to teach at a small school. Small schools mean you get more opportunity to get to know your faculty because we're the ones teaching your classes, not TAs. I had a friend when I was at University of Pittsburgh who said she would make up excuses to go to her faculty office hours just so they would know who she was when it came time for recommendation letters.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
And that's nothing I've experienced at Saint Leo. I always know my students, they know me. So when it comes time for recommendation letters, I know a lot about them and their goals and what they've been doing to reach those goals. So it's very different at a small school for that reason. I mean, our classes are capped at 25. I think the most I've ever had is 28. So I definitely know all my students. And also, it gives you that chance to engage in research again, because if you know your faculty, it's very easy to approach them and say, "I'm interested in doing research. How can I get involved with what you're doing?"

Greg Lindberg:
Right.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
We also have several faculty at Saint Leo who have ties to Moffitt Cancer Center, down the road from us. So Dr. Duffy and Dr. Borysov both have ties to Moffitt. We also have, I think at this point, eight alumni off the top of my head that work there currently. So that's also very helpful to kind of get your foot in the door for doing a research position after leaving Saint Leo, because we know some folks who were there who can say what jobs are available and who's looking for what type of researcher.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
And then I would say for a medical humanities, this program is very unique in Florida, and actually in the Southeast in general. In Florida, the only other school that offers it, the last time we checked, I think was Florida Institute of Technology, but only for the honors college. If a student is interested in medical humanities in Florida, we're it right now. I think the next closest one is Emory in Atlanta, which really is quite far away if you look at a map. So it's in that sense in the Southeast, really, there are only a few of these programs that are even being offered right now. And so I think that does make Saint Leo very unique.

Greg Lindberg:
Absolutely, all great points. I appreciate that. All right, so let's put Dr. Ellis now in the hot seat here to talk a little bit about ecology. And first off, Dr. Ellis, just give us kind of an intro to your personal and professional background.

Dr. William Ellis:
I'm a Florida boy. I was born and raised in St. Petersburg and Gulfport, Florida. So right near Saint Leo. Matter of fact, I still live there. I went to University of Florida, got myself a zoology degree, and then followed up with a master's from the University of South Carolina and a PhD from University of South Florida, both of those in marine ecology. Oh yeah, kind of a fun one. I want to be a student for the rest of my life, and I was lucky enough to go back to school and get a degree from Johns Hopkins University, a geographic information systems master's degree.

Greg Lindberg:
Oh, wow. Very interesting. And then in terms of your teaching career, talk to me about your career and just your journey to Saint Leo

Dr. William Ellis:
I come from a family of teachers, it's rather odd, back to even the 1800s. We all just seem to gravitate towards the profession. And I knew that's what I wanted to do for a very long time. In graduate school, I was fortunate to be given sort of an instructor position a bit early, but it got me really hands-on with the students. And from there, in my post-doc, I ended up working at a community college. And then from there, I came to Saint Leo and I've been here since, goodness, 2008.

Greg Lindberg:
Oh, wow. Long time now. And then just give us your overview perspective on the biology degree program.

Dr. William Ellis:
I think it's a wonderful program. I think that the track system we created enables people to focus on coursework that they are interested in. At the same time, we maintain a general biology track, which will allow students to do just what it says, keep a general view of biology so you can specialize, or you can keep it general.

Greg Lindberg:
Right. Very well said. And then in terms of the ecology track, what kind of prospective students would you say are ideal for this particular focus?

Dr. William Ellis:
We get students that have very different interests coming into this program. On one hand, you get some that ... I can't stand in this term, but I've heard it used. There are tree-huggers that simply, they want to help the environment. Although, I guess that's a common thread through most all that are coming into our program. But then there are others that are simply fascinated by the natural world as a large working system, and want to understand how that system works. And yet we have others that are interested in, let's say genetics or microbiology, and they want to focus it on a way that is systems related. And so they find their way to the ecology program.

Greg Lindberg:
Sure. I see. As far as ecology courses, what kinds of specific courses can students expect in this track?

Dr. William Ellis:
We have a very unique program. I've heard a number of students comment that in job interviews, that the person interviewing them was quite surprised at the diversity of courses we have to offer at such a small school. Our students begin by creating a foundation in basic ecology, but then from that, they branch out to more specialized courses. For example, we've got an estuarian ecology course where they apply the general principles, but within a specific habitat and really burrow into great depth in that.

Dr. William Ellis:
Then they will [inaudible 00:22:51] later on that are related to community ecology or population ecology. And these are topics that are often first given treatment in graduate programs, but we get them more towards senior year. On top of that, we've got applied courses in ecology, for example, a restoration ecology course, or we also include a GIS, geographic information systems, which is a very important tool for ecologists as one of the courses that students can take. So we give them the ability to really explore ecology in a way that is simply not possible at many other institutions.

Greg Lindberg:
Sure. Well said. In terms of faculty, I know that doctor, Dr. Kozina mentioned just the variety of backgrounds of our faculty, and anything you want to mention on our faculty?

Dr. William Ellis:
Well we've got, including myself, three ecologists here. And they're impressive in their own right. We've got one that had a focus in terms of insect plant relations. We've got another that studies tropical palm forests in South America. And myself, I focus on mangrove systems, so along the coast of Florida and other parts of the world. So our interests are nice and diverse.

Dr. William Ellis:
But then on top of that, I think we should also consider that there are faculty that are not ecologists that interact with us, that do research with us, because ecology pulls in all the other disciplines. I've worked with someone who's a microbiologist, studying bacteria out in the systems. I've worked with someone that was a molecular biologist and studied protein accumulation as an adaptation. Right now, Dr. Duffy is doing work with viruses that he collects from sediments from around mangrove systems, or even just on campus, to better understand what's out there. So all of our faculty play some role within our ecology.

Greg Lindberg:
Absolutely, no doubt. So I know we did mention TriBeta, the honor society. And just talk to me about the importance of students being involved in an organization like that and kind of those outside-the-classroom opportunities.

Dr. William Ellis:
Well, I would say in ecology, the majority of our outside-the-classroom opportunities, they fall in the lines of doing research with the faculty. For example, this semester, I don't think I have a single weekend where I'm not out on the water with my students in some part of Tampa Bay or the nearby environments. Dr. Chris Miller is taking a group up to the panhandle, to the salt marshes there to do some really novel research as it relates to climate change effect on the expansion of mangrove populations. So we work to get our students out there doing real ecology work with us as soon as possible. And that could be just kicking around in the kayaks, doing some assisting on a weekend, or working on a genuine publication or presentation at a scientific conference.

Greg Lindberg:
Sure. That's awesome that the students can get such hands-on experience, literally getting their hands dirty in the soil, so to speak, in the water. That's great.

Dr. William Ellis:
When COVID isn't a thing, I generally have them within the first week of classes starting, I get them out there.

Greg Lindberg:
Wow. That's amazing, the time that you and all the faculty are willing to give, like you said, giving up weekends. And that really says a lot. As far as careers with an ecology focus, what kinds of careers could students potentially pursue with this degree?

Dr. William Ellis:
Well, regulatory groups really need us. So for example, water protection or wildlife protection, our national park system would employ ecologists. So the government really has many spaces for people with an ecology degree. But also you have private consulting groups. So if you, for example, were wanting to assist with development, often it requires you to understand the ecology of the system to avoid harm.

Dr. William Ellis:
In addition, we've got non-governmental organizations. So you might play a role as an advocate for a particular system or an organism. So maybe you've heard of the World Wildlife Fund. Ecologists, they work with groups like that. But then there are the areas I alluded to before that often slip beneath people's notice. Maybe you're going to be the geneticist that studies black bear populations to understand, is it a healthy population or not. So you can go into many fields that fall under this umbrella that we call ecology.

Greg Lindberg:
Sure. Very interesting. And just, it's amazing how diverse it really is. If a student who attains this biology degree with that ecology focus is interested in grad school, what kind of options would you recommend out there?

Dr. William Ellis:
Goodness. I don't even know where to begin on that. As I said, the ecology degree can open doors in many different fields. I know that we've got a number that were moving into forestry. Others have taken more of a veterinary side of things, so others marine ecology. And we've got one student who ended up down at Marine Aquarium, working with sharks for example. So really it's tough to say, but there are many opportunities out there.

Greg Lindberg:
And then to wrap up here, how would you describe Saint Leo in terms of how it is different? What sets it apart in general from other colleges and universities out there, and with specifically focusing on biology?

Dr. William Ellis:
Well, I would reiterate that we get our students in the ecology track involved as soon as possible. So from the get-go, they're contributing to the formation of genuine science. And as rapidly as we can, we get them producing their own. Saint Leo University is a bit different than many universities in that we require our students to complete a senior seminar research project where they have to generate their own work. This isn't simply a literature review. This is original research that they're producing. And this is a challenging exercise that makes our graduates stronger than many others when they're ready to go out into the workforce or ready to go on to graduate school.

Greg Lindberg:
Absolutely. All right, well again, we've been visiting with Dr. Cheryl Kozina, as well as Dr. William Ellis, here on the Saint Leo 360 podcast. And just want to thank both of you so much for your time and your insight and everything you do for Saint Leo.

Dr. William Ellis:
You're welcome.

Dr. Cheryl Kozina:
Absolutely.

Greg Lindberg:
Alrighty, thanks 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 continue our discussion on the BS in biology degree program at Saint Leo University. This time, we focus on the ecology and biomedical sciences tracks, in addition to the bachelor’s in medical humanities degree program. Our guests are Drs. Cheryl Kozina and William Ellis, both of whom are associate professors of biology at Saint Leo University. They talked about:

  • Their personal and professional backgrounds
  • Their teaching careers and journeys to teaching at Saint Leo University
  • A brief history and general overview of the BS in biology degree program at Saint Leo
  • Where the biology and medical humanities degree programs are offered
  • Types of students these programs are intended for
  • An overview of courses and topics covered in the ecology and biomedical sciences tracks, as well as the medical humanities program
  • An overview of the faculty who teach in the biology degree program and these specific tracks
  • Opportunities outside of the classroom for students to connect with other like-minded majors
  • Career opportunities with a bachelor’s in biology degree focusing on ecology and biomedical sciences, in addition to avenues with a bachelor’s in medical humanities
  • Pursuing graduate studies with a biology degree and these specific areas of focus
  • What sets Saint Leo University and its biology and medical humanities degree programs apart from others

Links & Resources

Learn more about Saint Leo University’s biology degree program with a focus on ecology.

Get the lowdown on the biomedical sciences track within the biology degree program.

Interested in the bachelor’s in medical humanities? Check out the program on our degree page. 

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