New biology chair hopes to increase funding, research

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The new leader elected as biology chair has goals to expand research and funding to the department at Dixie State University. 

Erin O’Brien was elected chair of the biology department Jan. 1. O’Brien said she has many goals to boost funding for research and to expand research opportunities. 

Mikayla Stokes, a junior biology major from Wrangell, Alaska, said there is a lack of funding in the department for independent research, a requirement for most biology majors’ education. Some students in the department work with faculty in order to fulfill these research requirements. 

The main expense the biology department must overcome is obtaining the money for necessary equipment in order to complete experiments, Stokes said. DSU isn’t a research school, so the funding isn’t as readily available. Stokes said in order for the school to grow as a university, it should expand its research capabilities.

“As a biology student, the ability to do independent research is important,” Stokes said. “Dr. O’Brien is very supportive of independent research and sees it as a big need in our department.”

Stokes said there are various opportunities for students to do research even without sufficient funding. The faculty is supportive and helps students improvise where they don’t have the equipment, Stokes said.  

“We’re trying to facilitate faculty research as much as we can,” O’Brien said. “We are working with different funding agencies to bring in money to cover the expenses of research. We are working with local startups that are doing research so that our students can get involved.”

Joseph Cartagena, a senior biology major from St. George, said he is happy O’Brien is the new chair.

“One thing I really like about her is she’s a Ph.D., so she understands the point behind the research that we do,” Cartagena said. “I feel like we are only going to move forward from here.”

Kalisi Uluave, a senior biology major from St. George, said DSU needs more options for student research.

“You can’t get the research opportunities that you can at other universities,” Uluave said. “Many students would like to see that expanded.” 

O’Brien said the department needs to make students more aware of their current options for research. There are 40 to 50 research opportunities on campus alone this semester. These opportunities mostly consist of working with faculty on their research. 

O’Brien is currently in charge of three research opportunities, including one involving the endangered dwarf bear claw poppy.

Uluave is already a part of one research team headed by O’Brien.

O’Brien said biology students should consider going to other campuses during the summer to do research. She said this is what she did in college. This gives students a new perspective and the chance to make more connections by working with more people, O’Brien said.  

There have been three new emphases established recently in the biology department: biomedical sciences, biological sciences and natural sciences.

O’Brien said she hopes to work with federal and state agencies to create more opportunities for a natural science emphasis within the next year.

“We are all kind of working to build this place into what meets the needs of our students,” O’Brien said. “It’s not often that you’re at an institution where there’s so much potential to make things better for students.”