New Concentration Gives Nature-Minded Students an Academic Home

To learn more about the new biology concentration, Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology, interested students can attend an upcoming information session Sept. 18, 7 p.m., in the Druckenmiller Atrium.

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Bowdoin students fascinated by nature now have a new academic pathway to explore the environment.

Beginning this fall, the biology department is offering an Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology (EEMB) concentration for biology majors. While the concentration’s curriculum is broad — classes range from Molecular Evolution to Forest Ecology and Conservation — students will be able to deeply delve into the place where they are, and pursue courses and research inspired by the land, ocean, forest, lakes, and rivers of Maine and beyond.

Bowdoin’s ecologists study terrestrial, marine, and terrestrial-aquatic systems — our oceans, landscapes, lakes, and rivers.

Barry Logan, professor of biology, helped design the academic program with his peers in the biology department. In recent years the department has had more ecologists join its ranks. “We had recognized there are opportunities to render a coherent course of study around [these faculty] to help students build a Bowdoin experience that takes full advantage of our place, our people, and our facilities,” he said.

Vlad Douhovnikoff, an associate professor of biology, said the concentration “allows us to leverage our depth of expertise in this area to offer focused programing and provide an academic home for the growing number of students excited to understand how the environment works.”

The introduction of the Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology concentration coincides with more students showing interest in spending time in nature and learning about the species just outside their door. Last year, a group of students launched the Bowdoin Naturalists club, which meets weekly to investigate a new topic, from mushrooms to butterflies. Lab instructors Shana Stewart Deeds and Elizabeth Halliday Walker also started a popular monthly event, Field Notes Friday, that leads groups on expeditions to explore local ecology. The Huntington Birding Club, a longstanding birding group on campus, has lately had a resurgence, with student membership jumping.

“We are in a period of extreme environmental change. The EEMB concentration offers students the opportunity to focus on a cutting edge and crucial area of science where they study the biology happening around them right here.” — Assistant Professor of Biology Patty Jones

It is not just students who are focused on the environment. “You see it among senior leadership [of the college], too,” Logan said, pointing to the new Roux Center for the Environment, slated to open in October, and President Clayton’s Rose push to make the study of the environment a college priority. “There is clearly a hunger for this on campus,” he added.

Patty Jones, assistant professor of biology, is a behavioral ecologist and the director of the Bowdoin College Scientific Station on Kent Island, where each summer students pursue ecological research. She said the flourishing natural history activities and groups on campus reflect, in part, students’ environmental worries, as well as their desire to step away from hectic lives and glowing screens. “I think that in the constant news cycle, amid the very fast paced digital life that we are in, we are craving some time to carefully observe the natural world and find some sense of place here in Maine by learning who the plants and animals are that we live with,” she said.

Jones noted that EEMB will give students the training to apply scientific methods to analyze and research current environmental issues. While this background can prepare them for any number of careers, it gives them yet another skill, one that is not necessarily work-related but can be personally edifying. “Whether those students go on to be lawyers, doctors, in business, conservation biologists, or any career of their choice, a background in EEMB will not only ground them in how to interpret and analyze data, but also teach them to better understand and appreciate the natural world around them,” she said.

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