Discovery in Biology

At Whittier College, biology majors don't wait to graduate to begin their scientific experimentation.

Read about students who are developing their knowledge and skills in biology through engaging courses and academic opportunities.

Students working on biology projectStudents as Biology Scholars

Checking her instruments and notes, first-year biology major Emily Carranza hikes around the sage scrub in Whittier’s east hills, investigating the habitat with her fellow classmates. In this unique location, they apply the techniques and the knowledge they’re learning in the classroom—deepening both their understanding of a pressing biodiversity issue and their own understanding of the scientific method.

This class is part of a new research-focused writing seminar series which allows first-year students to learn the scientific disciplines hands-on. First-years work in groups to design and accomplish research projects under the guidance of peer mentors and their professors, and hone their scientific writing skills, as well.

  • Coastal Sage Scrub: A Habitat on the Brink of Extinction: Students have devised their own biological experiments and tested them on threatened plants.
  • Topics in Aging: Students have explored the molecular changes that lead to illnesses common among the elderly.
  • OncoImmunology Seminar: Students have tested the effects of nutritional supplements to understand how the immune system is harnessed to fight cancer.

The seminars have taken advantage of world-class resources like the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, where students went behind-the-scenes of the rhino facility and enjoyed lectures from Jonnie Caprio ’01, a senior zookeeper.

“It’s been an amazing experience. I didn’t know that undergraduate students, especially first-years, could take such a specialized class," said Danielle Gutierrez.

The seminars are made possible through a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation, in partnership with Pepperdine University.

Felicia DelgadilloSolving Problems with Biology Research

Felicia Delgadillo has been researching natural remedies to find an inexpensive, safe, and easy-to-use way to beat pests, specifically bedbugs.

After studying in professor David Mbora’s writing seminar, which blended research into the course, Felicia submitted a mini-grant research proposal. There are several such research-focused writing seminars offered by the biology department, supported by the National Science Foundation.

Felicia was one of eight first-years at Whittier selected by a panel of reviewers to continue her research, and she spent the summer in the lab testing the bedbugs and how they would react to two different natural remedies: an essential oil mixture and a tea tree oil treatment.

The writing and research seminar prepared her well for the project and Mbora supported her throughout the entire process.

“It was a joy to work with Felicia on this project,” Mbora said. “She is meticulous, can create, set and achieve clear [research] goals and has a capacity for extended, sustained effort and concentration.”

She was pleased to discover that both of her natural remedy treatments were effective in eliminating the bedbugs.

“This was very exciting to me because I can now confidently say that I do have a fairly solid remedy for bed bugs with evidence to prove it, which means I could potentially help out a lot of people in the world,” Felicia said about her findings.