Leading and learning: Labs provide rich experience for Biology students

UW-Green students in biology labsIt is a biologist’s dream … to examine, discuss, identify and chronicle, confirm, question and corroborate.

UW-Green Bay students — many of them biologists in training in Prof. Mike Draney’s Invertebrate Biology class — certainly have these opportunities for applied (hands-on) learning experiences.

In a lab environment, students who are learning the taxonomy, morphology, biology and ecology of most of the animal phyla, collect, prepare and identify their own invertebrates and look at specimens supplied by Draney.

The Biology students also have sensational resources at their fingertips — in this case, the University’s Richter Museum of Natural History (www.uwgb.edu/biodiversity/richter/). It is one of Wisconsin’s most significant collections of animal specimens for scientific research and education.

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– Photos by Eric Miller, photographer, Office of Marketing and University Communication

For Linda Vang, a Biology major from Green Bay, having access to both collections and an outdoor lab — the Cofrin Memorial Arboretum — is great preparation for her future plans … pursuing a graduate degree.

“We have opportunities to be in the field, work with the equipment, and develop skills in collecting and identifying animals,” she says. “Connecting the concepts taught in lecture to a lab that is filled with hands-on projects has definitely improved my ability to learn about and appreciate these animals. There’s a bigger impact when you learn by doing.”

In this recent lab, students studied mollusks (snails, clams, octopi, etc.) and were able to examine a few hundred specimens from the Richter Museum’s collection of seashells and from Draney’s personal collection. Students were asked to learn to identify any given specimen to phylum and class (and sometimes to subclass or order).

“The hands-on experiences I get in labs allow me to make connections between the lecture material and real life,” says senior Biology major Kari Matuszak, who hopes to be a teacher some day. “I consider myself someone who learns by doing, so having the opportunity to examine real specimens deepens my understanding of the material … these experiences have helped me learn to think critically and examine issues from multiple perspectives.”

Matuzak said it is the applied learning experiences and the relationships with faculty that stand out in her academic experience.

“I have had the opportunity to learn from many wonderful professors throughout my college career,” she says. “From my experience, professors at UWGB are incredibly knowledgeable and love to share their expertise with students. Professors like Dr. Draney are easily accessible and are willing to go the extra mile to help their students succeed.”

Says Vang: “I worked with professors on a research project, so there are opportunities at UWGB that provide guidance and preparation toward my future. In my experience, the professors are easy to talk to, and they guide you to an answer, plus they’re excited about what they teach!”