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Deep in the Heart of Rockwell

rockwell hall science building grove city college

Everyday on my way to class I walk by one of Grove City’s most iconic buildings, the statuesque Rockwell Hall,  with little idea of what lurks inside. Mad scientists? Frankenstein-esque labs? Having only been inside once, and just the lobby at that, I decided to find out more about the unique opportunities for biology majors that take place deep in the heart of Rockwell (aka the basement). What many students may not know is that Grove City offers a multitude of different research opportunities, you just have to  find them!

Seniors Kelly Cowher, Katelyn Goncz, and junior Stephanie Judd (all Biology majors on the same research team) heard about the opportunity to further their studies through research from upperclassmen, and one at the prompting of a professor.  Research experience is critical for a biology major’s future, however even students currently attending Grove City have little idea what valuable experiences are available to them.

grove city college biology majors

From left to right: Kelly, Katelyn, and Stephanie

Research Opportunities in Biology

I had the occasion to delve into the basement of Rockwell myself and observe where this team spends their time researching and studying white tailed deer dispersal patterns. Kelly went on to explain how the group extracts mitochondrial DNA from deer liver, analyzes and sequences the DNA, and compares their findings with a specific computer program.  Science-speak has never been my forte, but I can assure you the entire process looked very official. Though the groups are student lead Dr. Brenner, a biology professor at Grove City, oversees this research group as well as a few others and steps in when questions are raised or a group finds themselves in a quandary.

Curious, I asked Kelly, Katelyn, and Stephanie what their plans post-undergrad were, thinking they  all must be going into animal science. To my surprise only Katelyn expressed interest in attending veterinary school, while Kelly and Stephanie plan on attending either PT or OT school.  In order to be part of a research group, I discovered, the experience participation lends far outweighs how much the research topic correlates with one’s future plans.

Other biology research groups include the study of ticks and Lyme disease, cancer cell cultures, and various other environmental studies. After speaking with Kelly and her team, however, my curiosity in research was peaked.

grove city college biology lab

Equipment used for research

grove city college biology equipment



Jenny Calawa, a senior Biology major from New Hampshire, similarly  heard about research opportunities through upperclassmen and approached Dr. Stauff (who she describes as the “microbiology” guy) about doing research for him. Microbiology does in fact line up with Jenny’s future ambitions, which is Dr. Stauff’s specialty (so to speak).  Lots of large, science-esque words were used in our conversation about Jenny’s research, however from what I understood she and another senior biology major research bacillus bacteria, which Jenny described for me as “the stuff you can’t see.” More specifically, Jenny researches a specific strain of bacteria called bacillus anthracis while other students work with different strains, all within the bacillus genus.  The goal of their research is to investigate how a two component signaling system works. Again Jenny received a blank stare from me, so she graciously explained further. Truthfully I did not understand the majority of her descriptions, however I did conclude that signals inside the bacteria translate sections of DNA to make proteins to respond to it, and their research looks into the specific system that occurs in this instant. At least I’m fairly certain. Any which way you look at it, however, there’s some pretty neat stuff that happens deep in the heart of Rockwell.

In the future Jenny hopes to attend graduate school to further her studies in microbiology, and strongly believes this research opportunity will greatly increase her chances of success in graduate school.

Jenny left me with two final tips for prospective STEM majors:

  1. Anyone can do research, you just have to ask.
  2. You don’t have to know everything going in to be part of a research team – school is for learning, and professors will walk alongside you and teach you what you need to know!


Update April, 2016: Check out Grove City’s new biology-related majors!

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