Biology

The Biology curriculum is designed to engage you in the process of discovering what remains unknown about the living world. 

At Roanoke College, unlike many other schools, you’ll start doing hands-on science immediately. Our innovative curriculum engages students from day one and starts building skills that can give you an edge in graduate school, professional school or the workforce. Between research labs, internships, study abroad, intensive May Term courses and more, you can personalize your biology experience and specialize in what interests you.

Your Roanoke biology career starts with research and ends with research, as students conduct a student-driven experiment in their very first class and finish their time on campus with either an independent or collaborative research project. Your experiences here will help you wherever you go next, as our alumni are succeeding in the medical field, at national parks, at cutting-edge companies and elsewhere.

We offer both a major and a minor in Biology.

Step Into One of Our Labs

Launch Life Science Building

Biology at Roanoke

Roanoke College is a small school with the resources of a big school, and in our biology department you’ll find that you have an opportunity to use those resources as early as your freshman year. 

“You're digging up 14-million-year-old material, and you're the first person to ever touch it.”

Jordan Hutton, about a spring break paleontological dig in Fredericksburg, Va.

From the textbook to the lab.

Our grads go on to great med schools

Logos of: University of Virginia, University of North Carolina, Cornell University, Columbia University, Duke University, Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University

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PLACE alumni panel offers tips, connections for students and alumni

Roanoke College’s new center for Purpose, Life and Career Exploration (PLACE) opened its doors to students, alumni and community members to show how Roanoke students can get help pursuing high-value careers.

Butler set to lead Yale Department of Surgery diversity efforts

Dr. Paris Butler ‘00 will be the Vice Chair for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) and Associate Professor of Surgery, effective April 1, 2022. He is the first vice chair of DEI in the Department of Surgery’s 209-year history.

Study away in May

Move beyond the lab and study in the field with a professor for a month-long immersion into a single course. 

Research Leads to Job, then Graduate School

Seth Fortmann graduated from Roanoke College in 2015, and while here he completed research with Dr. Chris Lassiter. "The 3.5 years of research that I did at Roanoke absolutely gave me an advantage when applying for research assistant positions at Johns Hopkins University," Fortmann said. "I followed my passion and went to Johns Hopkins University to continue doing molecular biology research. What I came to love most was the opportunity to use my creativity to ask and answer interesting questions."

Fortmann is now a M.D./Ph.D. student at the NIH-funded Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine.

Student publishes research; lands aquaculture research position

Screenshots of Alex Kramer's research

Alex Kramer ’17 conducts research in Dr. Chris Lassiter’s aquaculture lab. His studies and a lifelong enthusiasm for aquarium fish are propelling Kramer towards a career as a hatchery manager. Aquaculture is “an environmentally friendly way to provide food where global hunger is still a problem,” he says.

Kramer and Lassiter’s toxicological research on the craniofacial development of zebrafish embryos was published in the scientific journal “Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology.”

Kramer’s lead authorship helped secure a competitive research position at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. He’ll conduct chromosomal research that could directly impact the production yield of oyster hatcheries.

“I am very thankful for all of the time and support I have received from Dr. Lassiter, who has allowed me to go above and beyond what I thought possible for my academic career at Roanoke College.”

Alex Kramer ’17

Sample Course Offerings:

  • BIOL 235: Microbiology Lab Student looking at organisms under a microscope
  • BIOL 340: Animal Behavior
  • BIOL 420: Developmental Biology 

    View all courses

Alumna’s career based on the causes she cares about | Dr. Melissa Puppa ‘08

Dr. Melissa Puppa working in the lab

Children, health, education, and science and technology—those are the causes Dr. Melissa Puppa ’08 holds dear. As a postdoctoral researcher at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, Puppa is researching how skeletal muscle regulates whole body aging, and how exercise improves how well treatments work. Puppa earned her Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina, where she also taught anatomy and physiology. Pursuing her interest in education, Puppa recently accepted a junior faculty position at the University of Memphis.
“The greatest reward in biomedical research is when the work that you do gets translated from the bench to the bedside,” said Puppa, who majored in Biology at Roanoke.

Our grads work at great organizations

Logos of organizations where alumni work: St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, American Cancer Society, Duke, Harvard Medical School, novozymes, Kaiser Permanente

Scott is Roanoke’s first Fulbright to Europe

Biology major Savannah Scott spent the year following graduation in Vienna, Austria, supported by her Fulbright study/research award. Scott successfully competed against graduate students for the Austria award to become Roanoke's first Fulbright to a European country. She took courses at the Medical University of Vienna and the University of Vienna, and she worked at the Technical University of Vienna, where she was part of its the collaborative Interuniversity Cooperation Center for Water and Health. Scott assisted with  microbial source tracking studies assessing the source of fecal contamination in various surface and ground waters, and she played a large part in developing a sample database with DNA extracts of approximately 150 organisms. She presented her research in two international research conferences and won an award for her work.

From research to internship to a career in marine biology

Heather Duvall with a dolphin"I've been passionate about marine life for as long as I can remember, but Roanoke has pushed me in the right direction to find a job doing what I love," said Heather Duvall '13, a biology major.

After graduation, Dr. Rachel Collins, a biology professor, recommended Duvall for a competitive internship with the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program. It led Duvall to work with pregnant dolphins. She even witnessed the birth of a dolphin calf. After two internships with the U.S. Navy, Duvall is now a dolphin trainer with the U.S. Navy marine mammal program.

Hudon is Rhodes Scholar Finalist

While at Roanoke, biology major and Rhodes Scholar finalist Rebecca Hudon ’17 worked as a research assistant with Biology Professor Chris Lassiter on a genome editing tool to create mutant lines of zebrafish. Since then, Huron has worked for Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School as a technical research assistant in a neuroscience laboratory and started med school at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. She was selected for UConn’s Urban Service Track/AHEC Scholars program as well as the Hartford Health Education program, both of which address the needs of underserved populations.

“I'm interested in the perspective of caring for people, rather than caring for the disease," said Hudon, who aspires to become a surgeon.

"As a finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship, she has achieved a level of personal distinction that few students ever achieve," Dr. Richard Smith, vice president and dean of the college, said. 

Lydiah Mpyisi researches tuberculosis to help home country

Lydiah Mypisi conducting an experimentLydiah Mpyisi ’16 has a knack for lab research. While at Roanoke, she studied four Tuberculosis proteins to identify targets for antibiotics. “I got interested because tuberculosis is a big problem in Africa and Kenya, where I come from,” said Mpyisi, who was born in Kenya, and is majoring in Biology and Environmental Science and minoring in Chemistry. Her research helped Mpyisi land an internship last summer at Salem-based Novozymes, a global biotech company. Mpyisi hopes to continue her research and lab work in medical school or a biochemistry job.