New bachelor of science degree in Biology available summer 2015

Penn State Schuylkill has announced that it has been approved to offer a bachelor of science degree in Biology, general biology option beginning in summer 2015. The program is available to current students, as well as to those pursuing acceptance beginning summer and fall 2015.

Students who enroll in the program are able to tailor their program for careers requiring broad backgrounds and diverse skills in the biological sciences, or for graduate study in many fields of biology. Students can select courses from a variety of areas of contemporary biology.

Career opportunities for graduates of the program can include environmental consultants, water quality specialists, teachers and professors, pharmaceutical administrators, and chemical technicians. There is also the opportunity for students to secure advanced degrees through graduate study, and prepare for careers in medicine or other health-related professions.

The program coordinator, Dr. Rod M. Heisey, professor of biology, is a plant ecologist and microbial ecologist. He teaches courses in microbiology and general biology and strives to instill in students an appreciation of the natural world.

Dr. Heisey was the principal investigator on a grant program from the National Science Foundation to renovate and modernize the biology research laboratory at Penn State Schuylkill.  In addition, he helped with the design of the new teaching lab, the Cotler Life Sciences Lab, which was dedicated in January, 2013.

His research focuses on chemical interactions of plants and microorganisms. He is currently investigating the ecological role of a toxic chemical produced by tree-of-heaven, a common, alien, invasive tree in Pennsylvania.

Dr. Heisey is very pleased about the new degree offering. Heisey stated, "The ability to offer a bachelor's degree in biology is one of the most exciting things that has happened in the science division during my twenty-five years as a member of the faculty at Penn State Schuylkill. Having students at the junior and senior level participating in our classes, and with our research projects will be a great asset both for the campus and the science faculty."

Additional faculty in the biology program include Dr. Darcy Medica, associate professor of biology and interim director of Academic Affairs, and Dr. Brenna Traver, assistant professor of biology.

Darcy Medica earned her B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in Animal Sciences from Rutgers University. Her post-doctoral fellowship was completed in the department of Medical and Molecular Parasitology at the New York University School of Medicine.

Dr. Medica and her students have been working on projects that examine different aspects of mosquito biology. Mosquitoes transmit diseases like West Nile virus, dengue and malaria, which are responsible for millions of deaths worldwide each year. They continue to look for ways to reduce the number of mosquitoes in the environment, or the number of mosquito bites, in an effort to reduce disease transmission. She is also working with Dr. Elinor Madigan on developing mobile apps for biology education.

Dr. Medica is enthusiastic about the research opportunities that will be available to students and faculty, "The new biology degree will provide a unique opportunity for students in Schuylkill and neighboring counties to complete a baccalaureate degree in science. Our biology, chemistry, and physics faculty have provided research experiences for undergraduates on our campus for a number of years, and I look forward to the amazing projects that will be completed by the upper level students in collaboration with our faculty."

Brenna Traver received her bachelor of science degrees in Biochemistry and Honors Biology from Eastern Connecticut State University. She went on to earn an M.S. and Ph.D. in Entomology at Virginia Tech. Her master's work focused on a gene drive mechanism in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and her Ph.D. work focused on a newly described microsporidian pathogen of honey bees, Nosema ceranae, which has been implicated as a potential cause for increased honey bee losses. Prior to coming to Penn State Schuylkill, she was a postdoctoral associate funded through a USDA NIFA Postdoctoral Fellowship at Virginia Tech. Her current research interests focus on how Nosema ceranae interacts with other pathogens, beekeeper applied pesticides, nutrition, and the immune system of honey bees and whether these factors may be impacting colony losses.

The biology degree is the third baccalaureate degree program that has been added within the past year. At the beginning of the fall 2014 semester, the bachelor of arts in Corporate Communication, and the accounting option in the bachelor of science in Business were added to the list of degrees that students could complete at the Schuylkill campus.

For a complete list of degree programs offered at Penn State Schuylkill, visit the website at