Volume 10, Issue 4
By Charlie Raskob '12
I received plenty of weird looks last summer during my internship at Target headquarters as a business analyst. People were both confused and surprised, because it’s hard to imagine how Biology would prepare someone for a career in retail. It took some explaining, but once I was able to show the core skills that I will be taking away from my Biology major, I think it made sense how it could prepare me for business. Actually, my recruiter told me to really sell the fact that I was a Biology major because it helped me stand out. Furthermore, I feel that what I learned in my Biology classes was crucial throughout the entire process, leading up to receiving my job next summer at Target.
During my interview I called upon an experiment I had done for my ecology class. It was a group experiment and at its core we wanted to see how higher CO2 levels would affect plant growth. Like all experiments, we had to decide what variables to test and how to test them. I transferred what I learned during that process and explained how I could apply that in a business analyst’s position. I was used to working with variables and deciding what was important, and furthermore, I was able to draw conclusions from the data I had.
Including the experience I gained working with data and unknowns, I also gained experience in collaborative work. Having a lab in almost all my Biology classes forced me to work with people around me, and I often didn’t know those people. However, by the end of every semester I usually had a consistent lab partner and we had learned how to work together pretty efficiently (usually because we wanted to get out of lab quickly). My ability to work well with all sorts of people was critical during my time at Target, and will continue to be important in my upcoming position. Target is structured around teams, so there is no escaping the fact that you must be comfortable working with the people around you. Being a Biology major made me a better collaborator.
Finally, my science background taught me to ask questions and find solutions. Throughout my classes, whether I was taking Ecology, Genetics, or Changes in the Arctic, I was forced to consider all sorts of questions and implications of what was being discovered. I was also challenged to be skeptical of experiments and literature. The balance between skepticism and accepting new discoveries is tricky, but you should “strive to be the optimistic pessimist” as Professor Umbanhowar puts it. Learning to ask these types of questions and simply being comfortable asking questions was a great skill to have and helped me succeed during my internship. All in all, I think the Biology major has prepared me for a career in the corporate world as well or better than any other major.
By Andrew Kaul '13
Throughout interim, seven student natural lands workers spent much of their free time out in the frigid Minnesota winter protecting the future of thousands of oak seedlings and saplings. In 2001, St. Olaf initiated a program to restore 37 acres of hardwood forest along Highway 35, in the southwest corner of campus. This area was divided into four plots that were planted successively from north to south in 2001, 2002, 2003, and the fall of 2005. Using direct seeding, students and faculty sowed a mixture of Black Walnut, Green Ash, Box Elder, and four Oak species including Red Oak and Burr Oak.
The more recently planted areas are currently at a crucial period in their transition to a forest. Most of the Oaks in the 2001 plot are saplings between knee and shoulder height. At this height, they have to compete with grasses and tall forbs for sunlight, and they are at the perfect height for the mouths of deer. White-tailed deer eat an average of seven pounds of food per day. Grass only makes up about 10% of their diet, so the majority of what they eat is twigs, leaves, and buds of woody plants, which are collectively referred to as “browse.” During winter months when the ground is covered with snow, browse becomes an even larger part of their diet. Since leaves are mostly unavailable, the deer end up consuming almost the entire seven pounds in the buds at the tip of each branch.
The job of those seven natural lands workers, including myself, was to ensure that deer browsing in our plots ate the buds on the lower branches, but not the terminal (apical) bud, which is the bud on the top of the tree that grows straight up as an extension of the trunk. When this bud is eaten, a fork develops at that point and if this happens multiple times, the trees grow wider and shorter causing increased competition for light. When the terminal bud is protected and deer are allowed to browse on lower buds, it encourages the tree to grow in a vertical direction more rapidly. This expedites the development of a canopy, which shades the ground and discourages the growth of plants that compete with the desired hardwood species.
We prevent the deer from eating that terminal bud by dipping it in Deer Guard, a foul smelling and even worse tasting white liquid that effectively deters hungry browsers. You only have to get a small taste once to understand why they don’t like it. After well over fifty combined hours of work, the team got to every vulnerable oak we could find. Bud dipping is somewhat tedious, but it is a necessary step in the cultivation of a successful hardwood forest restoration. This was not the first January that the oaks needed some protection, and it won’t be the last. The Deer Guard will not be shelved until those thousands of terminal buds have grown above our heads and are safe from the deer.
Picture above: terminal oak buds.
By Michelle Logsdon '13 and Anna Ballard '13
Early last semester, several biology and chemistry faculty contacted students asking if they would be interested in starting a new, science-oriented club at St. Olaf. Twelve students set out to make this group a reality. The result is StoMolS, the St. Olaf Molecular Science Club. StoMolS is St. Olaf’s undergraduate chapter of the ASBMB, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. ASBMB is a national professional society of over 12,000 members that supports the career advancement of its members and advocates for funding of basic scientific research and education.
For example, the group planned a Christmas party for StoMolS members and friends. At the event, many students and faculty enjoyed streaking yeast onto colored agar plates to design geeky yet awesome holiday presents and decorations.
StoMolS meetings will start again at the beginning of second semester, so sign up now if you want to be a part of this new, exciting club!
Picture above: Streaking yeast onto colored agar plates at the StoMolS Christmas party.
By Natalie Hofmeister '13
For the past few years, Professor Diane Angell has coordinated an educational outreach program for students at Greenvale Park Elementary. Every spring and fall, students from Greenvale walk up to St. Olaf’s Natural Lands to learn about wetland biology, and St. Olaf students volunteer their time to guide students through prepared stations.
This year, the Wetlands Education program received a generous grant to hire two student leaders who then visited each classroom before and after their field trip as well as planned enrichment activities. In these visits to the classroom, Laura and Natalie taught lessons on plant structure and seasonal changes this fall. Using St. Olaf’s many resources, we were able to bring in authentic scientific equipment for students to use in their own experiments as well as a live leopard frog!
Over 80 students from four different second grade classes visited the Natural Lands in October and November, and both Biology and Environmental Studies majors volunteered to lead students through the stations already set up. Activities included scavenger hunts, build-your-own wetlands activities, and even collecting macroinvertebrate samples from the ponds. Many students were able to hold a leech in their hand, and others loved the “museum” with a stuffed mallard, muskrat, and a beaver skull. The Greenvale students were thrilled to have been able to see both the Natural Lands and the college students who volunteered their time.
Because of decreased funding, Greenvale students don’t have many field trips during the year. Coming up to St. Olaf is a big deal, and the kids are always excited to see that college students have volunteered to show them around the Natural Lands. This spring, we will be hosting the fifth grade classrooms on our Natural Lands for another series of field trips. We are always looking for volunteers, so keep your eyes open for emails if you’re interested in getting involved!
Picture above: Second graders from Greenvale looking for macroinvertebrates.
By Pao Lor '08
From the class of 2008, my name is Pao Lor. I graduated with a major in Biology and concentrations in Biomedical Studies and Women’s Studies. After leaving the Hill, I began working as a Clinic Assistant for MN Gastroenterology, P.A. I worked in that position for two years and was offered a position in their research department, where I am currently a Clinical Research Coordinator.
As a CRC, my roles include managing clinical trials for some major pharmaceutical and medical device companies by ensuring that studies are compliant with protocols and federal regulations. I am also responsible for recruiting patients, handling and distributing study drugs, and processing and shipping specimens for testing. I would not be where I am today without the help and support of the Biology faculty members and staff. During my time at St. Olaf, I participated in two summer research programs (St. Olaf and University of Minnesota - Twin Cities), and these experiences, along with the courses and labs I took have helped me tremendously in my current role (how to think like a scientist!). My advice to the current Biology students is to keep exploring and take full advantage of all the resources the Biology Department has to offer, especially study abroad opportunities and summer research programs.
Aside from work, I am taking a few night classes at a local community college to keep myself academically engaged. Some new hobbies and interests I have picked up since college include fishing, hunting, attending fitness classes, and playing the guitar. My career goal is to become a healthcare provider, with emphasis in research.