T.J. Zenzal – The Life and Times of an Avian Field Ecologist

Hello, I am T.J. Zenzal, I grew up in Justus, PA (15 minutes outside of Scranton) and graduated from the University of Scranton in 2008 with B.Sc. in Environmental Science and a minor in Philosophy.

As an undergraduate at the University of Scranton, I had the opportunity to participate in the Faculty-Student Research Program, which allowed me to work closely with faculty of the Biology department studying avian ecology.

Back at the beginning – on a Scranton Ecology class field outing

Through this program, I learned the skills I needed to be competitive for an internship as an avian field technician working with breeding birds in the Missouri Ozarks. After graduation, I worked similar technician positions in Mississippi, Louisiana, and New Hampshire, before starting a M.Sc. program at the University of Southern Mississippi. During my M.Sc. program, I decided ecological research is my passion and soon after switched to a Ph.D. program. My Ph.D. research focused on the migration biology of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds before they negotiate crossing the Gulf of Mexico (~1,000 km non-stop flight). Part of my project included using cutting edge technologies to study the behavior of the smallest migratory bird in eastern North America, including being the first person to use radio transmitters on hummingbirds in the Unites States. While in graduate school I had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica, Sweden, and Alaska to study avian ecology, not to mention national and international conferences where I presented my research findings. 

After graduating with my Ph.D in 2016, I found funding for a post-doctoral position working with both the University of Southern Mississippi and University of Delaware. This position allowed me to study radar ornithology, the use of weather surveillance radar to study bird distributions and movements. After a year, I accepted another post-doctoral position with the University of Illinois to study migratory shorebird use of agricultural fields participating in a drainage management program. Shortly after, I received ~$1.5 million in grant funding, which was part of the BP Oil Spill settlement, to study bird migration along the Gulf of Mexico coast as a Research Scientist with the University of Southern Mississippi. In 2019, I accepted a position as a Research Ecologist with the United States Geological Survey, an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior that works to meet the research needs of partner organizations (e.g., U.S. Fish and Wildlife, state wildlife agencies). In my current position with the USGS, I use a variety of field and technological methods to understand the response of wildlife to ecological (e.g., severe weather, climate change) and anthropogenic (e.g., urbanization, habitat restoration) factors across the Gulf of Mexico region. By working with land management and conservation partners, my research directly benefits wildlife species and their habitats.

While a variety of experiences have shaped my career path, the University of Scranton provided the inspiration for my future and the foundation needed for me to succeed. The concepts and techniques I learned in courses, such as Conservation Biology and Ecology, are directly relevant to the work I do today. This is especially true of research opportunities outside the classroom, which provided me with a skillset that I will continue to use over the rest of my career. Additionally, the small class sizes allowed meaningful interactions with faculty, which, based on my experience, would be more difficult at a larger university. In fact, being able to regularly interact with faculty in the Biology Department has allowed me to continue working with members of the Department on new and exciting research projects.

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Alumnus Jonathan Nicklas describes his path to graduate work at Georgetown/NIH

My name is Jonathan P. Nicklas. I graduated from the University of Scranton in 2018. As an undergraduate, I was a biology and philosophy double major. I also was a member of the Special Jesuit Liberal Arts Honors Program and the Honors Program.

Midway through my sophomore year, I had the pleasure to begin a Honor’s project with Dr. Robert Smith, Ph.D., Dr. Katherine Stumpo, Ph.D., and a former graduate student. In this project, I used a spectrophotometer to measure light reflectance of male and female Gray Catbird, Dumetella Carolinensis, feathers. We ultimately discovered that the species’ feathers had slight, sexual variations in UV reflectance, pigment concentration, and color variables such as hue, saturation, and brightness.

As my college career progressed, I began to have an interest in biomedical sciences. This lead me to an internship at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Rochester, MN in the summer of 2017 after my junior year. There, I researched the effects of a natural, antimicrobial clay on biofilm-forming, drug resistant bacteria in a clinical microbiology lab. I demonstrated that the clay hindered bacterial growth. I then used my findings to contribute to a manuscript that was published in 2018.

After I graduated from college, I immediately joined a new lab at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD as a Post-Baccalaureate Research Fellow. I chose this program because I was unsure exactly how I wanted to launch my career in science. During that time, I was working in a Biological Safety Level-3 Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB) research lab in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). I modified current molecular biology techniques to make genetic variants of TB to better understand how the bacterium continues to be drug resistant, which contributes to its remaining as the leading cause of death from a single infectious agent worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

At the time of writing, I am preparing to begin the Georgetown University/NIH Graduate Partnership Program. In this program, my coursework will be done at Georgetown and my lab work will be conducted entirely at the NIH. I hope to stay in NIAID and work on topics related to drug resistance, genetic disorders, vaccinology, and perhaps even scientific government policy. During my brief time at the NIH, it has been a privilege to work with and learn from brilliant NIH scientists from the United States and abroad. Consequently, I am honored and thrilled to continue to do biomedical research next fall at the NIH, as it is a world class institution devoted to the health and betterment of mankind.

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2015 Biology Graduate Rob Brzozowski advances to Postdoctoral Research in Host-Pathogen Interactions at Montana

Hi, my name is Rob Brzozowski, and I graduated from the University of Scranton in 2015 with a B.Sc. in biology.

Following graduation, I joined the graduate program at the University of South Florida (USF) as a M.Sc. student in the laboratory of Dr. Prahathees Eswara in the Department of Cell Biology, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology. My research focus was on understanding novel mechanisms underlying cell division in Gram-positive bacteria, namely Bacillus subtilis and the well-known pathogen Staphylococcus aureus. After my first semester in the M.Sc. program I realized that scientific research was what I wanted to do. I found it challenging and rewarding. During the spring of 2016 I applied to the Ph.D. program and was later bumped up from the M.Sc. program during the summer of 2016 to continue my work on bacterial cell division. During my time at USF I also took on numerous collaborative projects with other labs from the university and from around the country. Many of these projects focused on the characterization of novel antimicrobials, or on understanding alternative pathways in which old antimicrobials work. Collectively these projects resulted in multiple publications and the opportunity for me to present my work at conferences both in Florida, and around the nation. Set to finish my degree during the spring of 2020, I began the interview process for a postdoctoral position during the fall of 2019. I wanted to step out of my comfort zone, yet wanted to be able to use the skill set I have been building during the course of my Ph.D. I ultimately interviewed and accepted a position with the laboratory of Dr. Patrick Secor at the University of Montana where I will begin work in an entirely different field starting this summer. I successfully defended my dissertation during the spring of 2020.

My success at USF, as well as my ability to move forward in my chosen career, is, in part, due to the education that I have received from the University of Scranton. I chose Scranton over other institutions mainly due to the small class sizes and outstanding academic reputation. Taking the courses that interested me and building lasting connections to faculty members truly shaped my love for the life sciences, and ultimately resulted in my decision to continue on into graduate school. Beyond course work, Scranton also gave me the opportunity to take part in undergraduate research and I was able to serve as an undergraduate teaching assistant in general microbiology laboratory. These experiences not only reassured me that research in microbiology was my calling, but also gave me a competitive edge over other applicants applying to the same graduate programs as me. The biology department at the University of Scranton truly helped me build a foundation on which the rest of my education has been built upon. 

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The Biology Department Welcomes Four New Tenure-Track Faculty for Fall 2020

Culminating an intense, but highly successful search process carried out over the last nine months, the Biology department is excited to announce and welcome four new tenure-track faculty who will be joining us at the end of August, 2020. Together, these faculty bring a wealth of new expertise and energy to our department and to the Biological Sciences programs. They are poised and excited to carry on Scranton’s tradition of educating and inspiring our students, invoking Ignatian values of the magis and cura personalis. Please welcome these new members of our faculty, who are each introduced briefly below.

Dr. Ashley Driver
B.S., University of Wisconsin-Madison
Ph.D, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Dr. Driver’s research incorporates cellular, molecular, and developmental biology to understand mechanisms of early mammalian forebrain development. Her current work involves using human and mouse cell lines to investigate the impact cholesterol biosynthesis has on neural cell structure and function.

Dr. Driver will be teaching Cellular Biology (BIOL 350) and Developmental Biology (BIOL 351) lectures and laboratories in Academic Year (AY) 2020-21.

Dr. Vincent Farallo
B.S., John Carroll University
M.S., Texas State University, San Marcos
Ph.D., Ohio University

Dr. Farallo’s research focuses on the ecology and physiology of reptiles and amphibians, primarily Plethodontid salamanders, to help better understand how species will be impacted by changing environments. His current research is focused primarily on the thermal limits, metabolism, and water loss rates of these salamanders, which can be used to create species distribution models.


Dr. Farallo will be teaching Human Anatomy and Physiology (BIOL 110/111) lectures, General Physiology (BIOL 245L) laboratories, and Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology (PSIO 221) lecture and laboratories in AY 2020-21.

Dr. Spencer Galen
B.S., University of Delaware
M.S., University of New Mexico
Ph.D., Richard Gilder Graduate School,
American Museum of Natural History

Dr. Galen investigates the evolution of host-symbiont interactions across spatial and temporal scales. His research largely encompasses studies on the diversification of symbionts and their hosts; molecular evolution of host-symbiont co-evolutionary interactions; and symbiont community ecology. His current projects examine the evolution of host specificity within the malaria parasites, and how this trait impacts the diversification and distribution of these parasites.

Dr. Galen will be teaching General Biology (BIOL 141) lecture, General Physiology (BIOL 245L) laboratories, and Science and the Human Environment (NSCI 201) lecture in AY 2020-21.

Dr. Amelia Randich
B.A., Grinnell College
Ph.D., University of Chicago

Dr. Randich’s work is focused on the molecular mechanisms underlying bacterial morphogenesis and the evolutionary trajectories that shape it. Her lab uses a mixture of phylogenetics, bioinformatics, cell biology, and biochemistry to study morphogenesis in diverse alphaproteobacterial species and to answer questions such as: Why do bacteria have certain shapes? What are the molecular underpinnings of specific morphologies? How do bacteria evolve new ones?

Dr. Randich will be teaching Microbiology (BIOL 250) lecture and laboratory in AY 2020-21.

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Biology Graduate Eva Rine reflects on Scranton and her new job at Sanofi

Hi, I’m Eva Rine, and I’m a senior biology major.

I started off as a pre-med BCMB major, but I soon realized that my passion was not in chemistry but biology. I changed my major to biology and my concentration to environmental studies, and have been focusing on the environmental aspects of the biology major. While I have been preparing for a job – ideally – in environmental consulting, COVID-19 brought with it the worry that I would not be able to get any job, let alone my most ideal job. That worry soon became reality as the country and the world shut down, and non-essential businesses came to a halt.

While I didn’t expect to start out my career with an essential job in a pharmaceutical corporation, I took a chance on a recruiter email sent to Dr. Sweeney from Sanofi. Within an hour I heard back from the recruiter, and within a few weeks I had filled out tax forms and been background checked and drug tested. Citing lab experience in the labs I’d taken at Scranton, as well as interpersonal experiences, I was offered a job in the formulations department just hours after being interviewed. The University of Scranton has provided me with an education and a confidence that not only prepared me to excel in the field I expected to be in, but also in the unexpected.

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Rising Biology Senior Jessica Fanelli awarded Royals Scholars Summer Fellowship in support of her Honors Research

Hi everyone!

      My name is Jessica Fanelli and I am a rising senior at the University of Scranton.

I am a biology major and a biochemistry minor. As a member of the Honors Program, I am conducting a senior research project that will conclude in the defense of a senior thesis. I am working with Dr. Robert Smith on this project to study species diversity and density of migratory bird populations in the Lackawanna State Park. For my senior research project, I have been awarded a University of Scranton Royal Scholars Summer Fellowship!  The fellowship provides me with a $3500 stipend, to allow me to spend the coming summer carrying out this project. 

      One of the primary goals in this study is to discern differences in species diversity and richness across varying habitat types. We will be using audio recorders to record bird calls in order to identify the species present in different areas. Recorders will be placed in a field habitat, a forest/field edge habitat, and within a forest habitat. With the recorders taking data in the spring and potentially during the summer breeding season, we will be able to study the effect of habitat on species richness and diversity. 

      Prescribed burns are going to be taking place in the coming years at the Park. Thus, these data can be used not only for my project, but also for future research when comparing the species diversity and richness before and after the burns have taken place. 

      I am so thankful for this award and my research opportunity here at Scranton. I would especially like to thank Dr. Smith  for all of his help, flexibility, and guidance. With this project, I will be able to expand my skills in data collection and analysis exponentially. Additionally, I would like to thank Dr. Voltzow for her guidance and her recommendation to pursue this award for my project. These faculty members are helping me to grow as a scientist and as a person, and I am so grateful for this and every opportunity I have here at Scranton. 

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Biology major Corinne Mackenzie tracks a Career as Physician Assistant

Hello, my name is Corinne Mackenzie and I am a current senior Biology major. I started my journey at the University of Scranton as a nursing major. It was not until my junior year that I decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology. I would like to share with you how I came to this decision and what plans I have for the future.
Entering as a nursing major I was initially excited by my prerequisite classes. It was not until my sophomore year that I started to feel uncertain of my choice of nursing. Outside of the classroom my first two years, I pushed myself to get involved and break out of my comfort zone. I became involved in service and student leadership. These experiences were transformative for me and my confidence grew tenfold. As belief in myself increased, so too did the nagging thought in the back of my head that nursing just wasn’t quite right. I had a thirst for knowledge of the inner workings of disease and the human body that wasn’t being met in my current classes. I realized that I wanted to be a critical decision maker when it came to diagnosis and treatment plans for patients. This prompted a decision to move forward as a Biology major on a pre physician assistant track my junior year. The switch was intimidating with the ground I had to make up as a biology major. It would require an extra semester of coursework and necessitate that all my remaining semesters be heavily laden with science courses. Despite this, the semesters after switching my major have been my most successful. I have been able to take classes that I am passionate about and that will help me in my future career, such as Physiology, Immunology, and Endocrine and Reproduction. 

        While in the past I have lamented the fact that I did not come to this career decision before I started college, I now have come to appreciate the journey that led me to this decision. Starting off as a nursing major has made me a more well-rounded student and introduced me to a healthcare perspective I may not have had otherwise. I am grateful to have spent my time at this University because it has exposed me to core ideals that I know I will carry with me in my career. One of the most meaningful to me is Cura personalis, which translates to “care of the whole person”.  It is a reminder to view every individual uniquely and serve not only the body but the mind and soul as well. This is something I hope to live out as a Physician Assistant. Confronting the uncertainty of my major choice and vocation forced me to more deeply analyze my own interests and brought me to a decision in which I feel truly confident. Moving forward, I am preparing to apply to physician assistant programs. I am confident that the University of Scranton has honed my academic abilities and prepared me well. I would encourage other students not to be discouraged if at any point they find themselves uncertain of what path to follow. It is in these moments of uncertainty that I was able to deeply reflect on what I was most passionate about, and this led me to a career path I can pursue confidently!

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Positions available at Pharm Giant Sanofi

Sanofi, whose regional facility in Northeastern Pennsylvania (Swiftwater, PA) is part of the international pharmaceutical and vaccine giant Sanofi-Pasteur, has a number of professional positions now available to upcoming graduates in the Biological Sciences. I received the following email today, which I am sharing with you:

Hello Dr. Sweeney,

I am a recruiter with Manpower and I am reaching out as Sanofi has a few positions open in various departments that they are looking to fill. With the COVID-19 pandemic, Sanofi is now open to accepting students who would be projected graduate this year. We are looking for candidates who would be graduating with a degree [from programs such as] Biology, Biotechnology or Chemistry.

 I am hoping that you would pass my contact information out to any student that would be graduating this year. You can have them call me direct or just have them send a resume to me.

 I do hope that this might help some of your students and I look forward to hopefully partnering with you and the rest of the department for any future potential candidates that you feel would be a great fit with Sanofi.

 If you have any further questions, please feel free to reach out. Thank you and stay healthy!

 Kindest Regards,
Suzanne Jones
Recruiter – Sanofi
cell: 570-236-7556

You might also be interested to know that Sanofi has a number of professional development tracks available to undergraduates, which can be found here:


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Graduating Physiology major Ashley Martino – prepping for a PA Program

Hello my name is Ashley Martino and I am a senior Physiology major at the University of Scranton. You may be wondering what can you do with this major?  I had the same thought when this new major opened up at my university. I would like to share with you my journey, why I choose to be a Physiology major, and what I plan on doing with it.
Ever since I was a little girl I have loved helping people and knew that I wanted to make it into a career. There was this one moment where I knew what I wanted to do in life. This moment was when I was about 9 years old and I got to go to Bring Your Child to Work Day with my mom. My mom works in a hospital where she is a CT tech. They gave us a tour of parts of the hospital and we were able to see the helicopter that is used for air transportation for critical patients. After this day I knew I found my new home, and my interest in emergency medicine was sparked. My dream of becoming a doctor began and I started down the path of trying to get into medical school.

When I got to Scranton, I was a Biology major, and throughout my freshmen year I was working hard on my studies in order to get closer to my dream. I soon realized that I was buried in school work and not doing as well as I hoped or needed. I felt very overwhelmed and the realization that I might not be cut out for medical school started to creep in. My grades weren’t bad, but I was never a person to put all my focus into school work. I wanted to join clubs, do service, and be a leader in different aspects on campus, which took up time. I started to look into other professions in the medical field because I knew helping people was still my calling. I found the profession of physician assistant (PA) and I felt a fire light up inside of me. It was so appealing to me – you weren’t a doctor but you were basically their right hand man, woman in my case. What was the most appealing was the more patient interactions I would have as a PA compared to a doctor. I realized that this fire was excitement and I wanted to pursue this profession. I started to look into what it took to become a PA and how I can start down this new path. The first thing I had to do was change my major because although I could stay as a Biology major, this new Physiology major matched up better with the requirements for PA school. Ever since I did this, it has challenged my way of thinking and got me one step closer to my dream.

My post-graduation plan is to take a gap year in order to gain more patient care experience as an EMT and then apply for PA school. PA grad schools usually take a little over 2 years. These programs are also very competitive, and the more experience you have the better, and I am trying to get in the first time I apply. If I do not get in the first time around I will continue to work and gain hours and maybe even more science credits until I get into a program. I will do whatever it takes to make my dream come true. I aspire to the saying, if you love what you do in life you will never work a day in your life.

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Congratulations to our newest Scranton Summer Research Fellows!

The Provost’s Office has just announced this summer’s recipients of the University’s prestigious President’s Fellowships for Summer Research. The Biology department is proud to announce that six of our students majoring in the Biological Sciences have succeeded in securing these coveted awards for funded summer research experiences. Each fellow will receive a $3000 stipend, an additional $500 budget for supplies or travel to a scientific meeting, and the availability of free on-campus summer housing. The new Scranton fellows are:

  • Charles Dominick, Langhorne, PA (mentor: Dr. Jong-Hyun Son) – rising Senior in Biochemistry, Cell & Molecular Biology; Project: “The effects of a high-fat diet on acetylcholine esterase during the central nervous system (CNS) development”
  • Margaret McGrath, Merion Station, PA (mentor: Dr. Christopher Howey) – rising Junior in Biology; Project: “Studying the Effects of Ambient Light at Night (ALAN) on the Natural Rhythmicity of Glucocorticoids”
  • Mahad Muhammad, Freeland, PA (mentor: Dr. Maria Squire) – rising Junior in Biology; Project: “The Effects of Tylenol on Cortical and Trabecular Bone Quantity and Morphology in Adolescent Mole Mice”
  • Richard Terranova, New York, NY (mentor: Dr. Marc Seid) – rising Senior in Neuroscience; Project: “The Effects of social isolation on axonal pruning in the mushroom bodies of the ant “Pheidole dentata”
  • Cara Webster, Bradford, PA (mentor: Dr. Marc Seid) – rising Senior in Neuroscience; Project: “Army ant raiding as a learning tool for bat foraging behavior”, and
  • Sarah White, New York, NY (mentor: Dr. Anne Royer) – rising Junior in Biology; Project: “Testing maintenance of divergent “M.ringens” life histories with morphological differences, resource allocation, and inbreeding depression”

We plan to have each student blog this summer on their research experience, so please stop back to learn about their progress. In the meantime, please congratulate these budding researchers, and congratulate the many other students in the Biological Sciences who will be taking on research experiences this summer.

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