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Biology faculty

Rebecca Beach Rebecca Beach, associate professor, cellular and developmental biology
B.S., University of Arizona; M.S., University of Connecticut-Storrs; Ph.D., University of Texas-Austin

Although most of my formal training is in molecular biology, my fascination with the living world has always extended well beyond the boundaries of molecules and cells. I grew up in southern Arizona and spent much of my childhood exploring the mysteries of the desert and its magnificent array of vegetation and wildlife. As an undergraduate I studied ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, but graduate school eventually led me to research in molecular biology and animal development. As a faculty member at Hollins I have had many opportunities to expand my scholarly pursuits and engage in research collaborations with faculty and students in the biology, psychology, and physics departments. My recent research projects have included studies on canine genetics and behavior, the effects of environmental toxins on fish and amphibian development, and sources of microbial contamination in food and drink. I teach courses in molecular and cell biology, genetics, developmental biology, evolution, and nutrition.
Renee Godard Renee Godard, professor, ecology and animal behavior
B.S., Guilford College; Ph.D., University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

As a child, a walk in the woods filled my mind with stories and questions about the animals and plants I had seen. Now my walks evoke more sophisticated questions and the angle at which I try to answer them has changed, but my mind is still completely absorbed by the wonders of the natural world. At Hollins, many of the classes that I teach feed my passion and allow me to share it with my students. From the classroom to the field, we explore ecological and behavioral questions, asking questions and finding answers. The woods that I share now with my students have changed since I was a child. Global climate change and other significant environmental problems threaten much of the fabric of the natural and agricultural systems upon which we rely. As such, in my classes we also explore these environmental problems and search for hopeful solutions. The classes I teach at Hollins include Environmental Science, Ecology, Animal Behavior, Evolution and the Human Condition, Senior Seminar and Winter Wanderings. The research questions that my students and I explore are wide ranging from discovering factors that impact breeding success in birds (primarily bluebirds) to determining the degree to which our technological systems for delivering food can result in microbial contamination of what we consume.
Ryan Huish

Ryan D. Huish, assistant professor, biology (Botanically Speaking Web site)
A.S., Utah Valley University; B.S., Brigham Young University; M.Phil., Ph.D., City University of New York

My earliest memories are of plants. After observing plants for several years, I began to wonder if everything grew like plants. This question lead me to perform my first experiment at age five. I placed a rock in the sunshine on my bedroom windowsill and watered and measured it periodically. After concluding that rocks don’t grow like plants, I gave up on geology and my love for plants has been growing ever since. With a background in botany and cultural anthropology, I am fascinated with how historic and modern peoples around the world use plants for food, medicine, and art, and also the commodification and conservation of these plants. The courses I teach at Hollins include Plant Biology; Plants and People: An Introduction to Ethnobotany; Conservation Biology, with a strong GIS (Geographic Information Systems) component; and Plants in Poetry and Art. My research interests incorporate an interdisciplinary approach to address basic and applied questions in ethnobotany, ecology, and plant conservation by employing techniques in the fields of plant ecology, genetics, anthropology, phytochemistry, biogeography, sustainable management, and GIS. Most recently I have focused on studying the ethnobotany, ecology, and sustainable management of sandalwood (Santalum yasi), a culturally and economically significant but threatened plant endemic to Fiji and Tonga that is harvested for its aromatic and medicinal oil. I am also involved with an ongoing project studying the medicinal plants of Tonga. I welcome opportunities for students to explore some of these questions with me through collaborative research.

Jonathan Stol Jonathan Stoltzfus, visiting assistant professor, cell and molecular biology
B.S., Messiah College; Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

My interest in tropical diseases afflicting socio-economically disadvantaged persons began with an undergraduate research experience working on malaria in rural Zambia. Rounds in the district-level Zambian hospital impressed upon me the limited understanding we have of the basic biology and social implications of many tropical diseases; visiting children with cerebral malaria in the morning often clarified the ultimate purpose of my afternoon laboratory experiments. In graduate school, my focus turned to human parasitic worms, which often cause malnutrition and developmental retardation in children in tropical developing countries, thereby impeding their social mobility. I am particularly interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms regulating the infectious process of parasitic worms. I hope that knowledge gained through the research efforts of my students can be leveraged to improve treatment and control strategies for these parasites, thus potentially improving the lives of thousands of people worldwide. My research uses the biology of the free-living roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans to inform both molecular and computational investigations of infectious larval development. I am also interested in how these organisms have influenced, and have been influenced by, human genetics through the course of evolution. At Hollins, I teach Introduction to Human Genetics, Molecular and Cell Biology, and Advanced Molecular Genetics.
Amy Fenster Amy S. White, lecturer, microbiology and immunology
B.S., James Madison University; M.S., The Medical College of Virginia

The intricate dance between microbes, that cause disease, and the immune system, that combats these organisms, is one that has captivated me because of its complexity and importance to human health. After completing my master’s degree, I strayed to some degree from this focus into applied toxicology. Specifically, I worked with avian and aquatic toxicity and biodegradation studies. While this work was challenging and rewarding, my true love was still microbiology and it is with delight that I am able to teach courses at Hollins in areas I find fascinating. I currently teach biological self defense, microbiology, and immunology.

Morgan Wilson Morgan Wilson, associate professor, physiology and anatomy
B.S., Hampden-Sydney College; M.S., Virginia Tech; Ph.D., University of Mississippi

I’ve always been interested in how living organisms “work”, how they are built, and how they interact with their surroundings. Thus, I might best be described as a physiological ecologist, as my interests rest at the intersection of these biological disciplines. At Hollins, I teach courses in Human Physiology, Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy, Invertebrate Zoology, Physiological Ecology, Ornithology, Senior Seminar, and a January Term course entitled The Art, Literature, and Science of Fly Fishing. My research interests are diverse but regularly focus on understanding key events in the annual cycle of animals (often birds). My recent research investigations include: the behavior and endocrine physiology of birds during breeding and migration; the hatchability of avian eggs exposed to various environmental conditions; and the influence of diet on the responses of eastern garter snakes to fish alarm substance. I enjoy working in both the laboratory and in the field, and these research questions have provided me with wonderful opportunities to collaborate with both students and faculty colleagues.