School of Natural and Applied Sciences at Avila U

Avila’s Capstone Students produce original research, and often present at professional meetings.

Some of you may have noticed that I updated my About page to include some important changes. Namely, I’ve been appointed Chair of the School of Natural and Applied Sciences (SNAS) at Avila University.

I’m very happy, and humbled, to assume this position after many years of service to our Biology Programs. SNAS is the largest School within Avila’s College of Science and Health (CSH). We offer undergraduate majors in Biology, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology (BMB), Professional Health Science (PHS), and Kinesiology. Within Biology and Professional Health Science, students can choose from multiple undergraduate degree tracks to accommodate specific interests and career aspirations. These include Ecology & Environmental Science, Pre-Veterinary Science, Pre-Medical & Pre-Pharmaceutical Studies, Pre-Occupational Therapy, and Pre-Physical Therapy. Our Kinesiology Program includes 4+1 and 2 year masters options. We also offer minors in Biology, Chemistry, Kinesiology, and Forensic Science.

The diversity of our programs is made possible by a highly skilled and knowledgeable faculty who are deeply dedicated to serving our students. Now that I’m Chair of SNAS, I’ll start sharing some of the amazing things SNAS faculty and students are doing as part of my regular posts, on top of my usual musings about research, creative literature, and life in general. To get started, here are a few updates going into Fall 2020:

General Biology Instructional Lab in O’Reilly Hall

SNAS Capstone Coordinator Dr. Stephen S. Daggett welcomed upper level Biology, BMB, and PHS Majors to the Fall 2020 Capstone Research Experience. Capstone is the flagship of our Natural Science Program. Modeled after undergraduate research experiences such as the NSF-REU, Avila’s Capstone allows undergraduate students to conduct original scientific research in close collaboration with a faculty mentor. SNAS students are matched with mentors based on their specific interests and complete projects over two semesters or more. The SNAS Capstone often produces original data of publishable quality. Avila’s Capstone students have presented at professional meetings, won awards, and published co-authored articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Innovative teaching efforts on the part of SNAS faculty are expanding Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CURE) across Avila’s science curriculum. CURE allows undergraduate students to engage in original research as part of regular semester-long courses. This approach to teaching builds critical thinking and quantitative skills, as well as providing valuable, hands-on experience for the STEM marketplace.

Avila’s approach to undergraduate education is innovative, field-based and hands-on.

Dr. Karin Gastreich (that’s me!) has implemented CURE in several of her courses, including Conservation Biology, Ecology, and Introduction to Research. One of her CURE modules, “Assessing urban biodiversity through the eBird citizen science project,” was published this past summer in the peer-reviewed journal CourseSource ( In adddition, Dr. Katherine Burgess recently secured an award from Avila’s Jeanne Lillig Patterson Faculty Innovation Grant to purchase equipment and supplies for a new CURE laboratory course, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Techniques, to be co-taught with Dr. Chad Cooley.

Also under the leadership of Dr. Katie Burgess, Avila’s NSF S-STEM grant begins its fourth year in 2020-2021. To date, the NSF S-STEM program has provided more than $320,000 in scholarship support for over 20 Avila students. The S-STEM program also provides support services ranging from tutoring to professional mentorship. S-STEM support has increased retention of first year biology and computer science students at Avila. This fall, we are providing mentor support, supplemental instruction, and STEMinars virtually. We have even moved our STEM Resource Center, run by S-STEM scholars to support students in introductory level biology, chemistry, and computer science courses, online. Data and support structures generated by the NSF S-STEM grant will be presented at the fall meeting of the Association of College and University Biology Educators.

These are just a few highlights from a very active School. Stay tuned for more on our courses and research, including discussion about how we’re managing online and blended formats in an age of Covid19.

These are challenging times to assume a leadership position in academia, but I’m excited to be serving SNAS in this capacity, especially given the great people – faculty, staff, and students – I’m working with. I look forward to sharing our journey with you.

Here’s to a safe and productive fall semester!

All Avila Biology, BMB, and Professional Health Science students participate in a capstone research experience as part of their undergraduate degree program.

For further reading on CURE:

American Association for the Advancement of Science. 2011. Vision and Change in Undergraduate Education: A Call to Action

Auchincloss LC, et al. 2014. Assessment of course-based undergraduate research experiences: A meeting report. CBE Life Sci Educ 13:29-40. DOI: 10.1187/cbe.14-01-0004

Bangera G, and Brownell SE. 2014. Course-based undergraduate research experiences can make scientific research more inclusive. CBE Life Sci Educ 13:602-606. DOI: 10.1187/cbe.14-06-0099

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