Biology majors succeed in many kinds of careers

Typical Saint Joseph's College biology graduates have known from an early age that they wanted to pursue a career in science, often influenced in their decision by family members, environment or even by childhood games.

Brandi Caron '99

On duty at Maine's state crime laboratory, forensic chemist Brandi Caron '99 of Augusta examines evidence from a bloodied airbag.

Brandi Caron '99 may have been influenced by all three. Growing up in the tiny town of Fort Kent, she and her younger sister, Amber Carey '01, had little to entertain them other than bicycles and their imaginations. But using blank forms and reports from their father, a sergeant detective with the Maine State Police, the girls played homicide the way some children play house. An ironing board made a perfect barracks; their bikes became patrol cars. And they never tired of outlining murder victims in chalk on the street.

"On family trips, we'd drive by somewhere and my father would say, 'And that's where so-and-so was murdered,'" Caron said.

Now she works as a forensic chemist at the Maine State Crime Lab in Augusta and teaches at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. Carey, her sister, is a manager at ImmuCell, a Portland biotech firm.

Not atypical of biology students, Caron approached her college selection process methodically, looking at several schools. But Saint Joseph's small size and lakeside location won her over. And once here, the personal touch of faculty members affirmed her choice.

Ray Gerber and student taking a core sample

Biology professor Ray Gerber shows a student how to extract a core sample from a tree as part of ecology class. After 26 years in the department, Dr. Gerber is retiring.

She still keeps in touch and consulted on a case with her former professor, Dr. Ray Gerber, when she began working at the crime lab. Trying to determine if a clothed body had been in a pond before it was buried, she sought Gerber's expertise to help her know what to look for. Following his instructions, she found the evidence and relayed the information to the district attorney's office.

What attracts prospective biology majors to Saint Joseph's College and away from big universities or private institutions with large endowments? Consistently, they say the answer is a small-school atmosphere, a small department and knowledgeable and approachable instructors. And most of these graduates have had a long time to consider their original choice to come here.

Dr. Su-Anne Hammond '97

Su-Anne Hammond ’97 returned to campus as a physician on staff at the Saint Joseph’s Wellness Center, where she works part time. She lives in Windham and also has a private practice two days a week in nearby Raymond.

Su-Anne Hammond '97 was looking for a personal relationship with faculty when she transferred to Saint Joseph's from a large university.

Now in private practice and a part-time physician on staff at Saint Joseph's Wellness Center, Hammond doesn't remember a time she didn't want to be a doctor.

"I thought I was looking for a big school," she said. "But at UNH, when I tried to talk to a teacher . . . he didn't know who I was."

It's true that Saint Joseph's is not a place a student can be inconspicuous.

Todd Hamiltonm '99

Dr. Todd Hamilton ’99 of Windham worked in the admissions office at Saint Joseph’s before heading to graduate school in optometry. He is now an associate at Maine Optometry.

Caribou native Todd Hamilton '99, an optometrist at Maine Optometry in Brunswick and Freeport, learned that fact from a small, early morning physics course. When he and his roommate decided to sleep in, the instructor personally called the two, saying, "It's physics time."

While being anonymous might have been convenient at times, graduates say it's that personal attention, coupled with the faculty's depth of knowledge, that kept them at the school.

Dr. Catherine Gagner '96

Dr. Catherine Gagner ’96 of Standish works as a veterinarian at Scarborough Animal Hospital in Scarborough. She is shown here with her dog, Dudley, who gets to come to work with her.

"The professors certainly helped me get going in my chosen field and were a guiding force in my getting into graduate school," says Catherine Gagner '96. Now a veterinarian at Scarborough Animal Hospital, Gagner says the close relationship with professors assured her of personal, thoughtful recommendations for grad school applications.

The availability of the instructors and the opportunity for tutoring appealed to Stephanie Bourgeois '02, a crime scene investigator with the police department in Apache Junction, Ariz.

Bourgeois says the professors' knowledge was current and transcended any lack of equipment. Even if a piece of equipment was unavailable, faculty included instruction on its use. When she attended George Washington University for her master's in forensic science, Bourgeois felt well-prepared.

Gerber says the department has received equipment grants, from agencies including the National Science Foundation and the federal EPA, and has benefited from hospital donations. All students are required to do a senior project and are encouraged to seek internships at area labs to increase their experience on equipment the college might not own.

While their equipment might not rival that of better-funded schools, Gerber says the science programs at Saint Joseph's "are not watered down."

"We can't do a disservice to our students and make it easy, because they have to compete with others for graduate school," he said. "We have a natural weeding out process so, by the time they graduate, they're committed and have the ability." Although larger universities have reduced the lab component, Gerber says Saint Joseph's offers its students a lot of hands-on experience and lab time. And, unlike labs at many other schools, Saint Joseph's labs for upper-level courses are taught by professors - not teaching assistants.

Assistant professor of biology Elizabeth Auger believes the quality of the students and the time the faculty spends with them on labs and tutoring gives them an advantage as they pursue a science career.

Caron sees that advantage in her work at the forensic lab. With interns from all over the country, she says those who have graduated from Saint Joseph's College are always well prepared, while "a surprising number" from other schools do not have a sufficient foundation

While a high-tech and rapidly changing field demands well-trained individuals, successful biology graduates recognize it's still the human component that prepares them.

"Saint Joseph's allowed us to make the best of who we were - it opened the doors to opportunity and it was our job to walk through and see what was on the other side," Hamilton said. "I appreciate what they've done; I wouldn't have changed anything."

After graduation

St. Joe's biology graduates work in a variety of careers, including veterinarian, histologist, medical doctor, physician assistant, forensic scientist, research scientist, dentist, chiropractor, optometrist, pathologist, paramedic, physical therapist, lab technician, developmental biologist, microbiologist, veterinary technician, immunologist, and molecular biologist.

Almost half of our biology alumni go on to graduate school, a much higher percentage than average for a small private college, says biology professor Dr. Beth Auger. Here is a sampling of programs that alumni are enrolled in or graduated from:

M.S. in Biology, Harvard University
D.O., College of Osteopathic Medicine, University of New England
Doctor of Chiropractry, Logan School of Chiropractic Medicine
Doctor of Optometry, New England College of Optometry
M.S. in Forensic Science, George Washington University

Physician Assistant program, University of Southern Maine
Ph.D. in Developmental Biology, Vanderbilt University
M.S. in Microbiology, University of Maine, Orono
Medical Technology Program, Mercy Hospital, Portland, Maine
College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois

Ph.D. in Developmental Biology, Cornell University
M.S. in Applied Immunology, University of Southern Maine
Ph.D. in Immunology, California Institute of Technology
M.S. in Applied Immunology, University of Southern Maine
M.S. in Cardiac Perfusion, Northeastern University

M.S. in Applied Biotechnology, University of Southern Maine
College of Veterinary Medicine, North Carolina State University
Scholl School of Podiatric Medicine
College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Michigan
School of Dentistry, Temple University

M.S. in Plant Physiology, University of Pennsylvania
University of Florida College of Dentistry
M.S. in Molecular Biology, Northeastern University
Biotechnology Program, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
M.S. in Chemical Oceanography, University of Rhode Island

by Peggy Roberts