Academics photos

Meet the Biology Faculty

Kristin Bliss

Chair of the Biology Department, Associate Professor of Biology
B.S., M.A., College of William and Mary; Ph.D., Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
(e-mail)

My teaching philosophy contains 3 main components:

  1. construct courses so that students experience Biology as an investigative science;
  2. design opportunities in the lab to help students refine and practice their technique of scientific investigation; and
  3. encourage students to develop critical thinking skills by evaluating scientific journal articles and science in the world around them.

I plan my courses with an eye toward making Biology come alive to students. We use current, popular media to analyze the science of everyday life. Students develop analytical skills that allow them to connect current class biological concepts with larger ecological and environmental issues.

My research interests span cellular to ecological, and have included experiments in the laboratory, greenhouse and field.

To date, I have supervised two senior undergraduate students. One who explored demography (turnover) of roots as a response to nutrient patchiness using rhizotron boxes in a greenhouse setting (Virginia Tech, 1999-2000).

The second student examined the antibacterial properties of spices with respect to three common plant pathogens using plate inhibition tests in a lab setting (R-MWC, 2003).

Another area I’m interested in researching is phytoremediation. In phytoremediation, plants are used to ‘clean up’ environmental contamination. Specifically, we have shown from greenhouse experiments that corn plants can take up significant amounts of lead and translocate the lead to their shoots for easy removal. Future research will focus on refining the technique so that it can be used to absorb lead from actual contaminated sites in the Lynchburg area.

When I'm not in the office, I enjoy spending time with my family. My husband Andy and our two boys, Justin and Connor, enjoy spending time hiking, bike riding and swimming at Smith Mountain Lake. Our golden retriever Cameron loves to swim too.

Ronald Gettinger

Professor of Biology
B.S., Miami University of Ohio; M.S., Colorado State University; Ph.D., University of California (Los Angeles)
(e-mail)

A career in Biology has probably been in the works for me since I was a kid. I grew up in rural southwestern Ohio and when I wasn’t playing baseball I was usually exploring the fields, woods, and creeks that surrounded my little hometown. After my first college course in ecology, I knew Ecology was the area of Biology for me — I briefly considered Medicine but sick people did not have the same powerful appeal as Mother Nature. I was really hooked after a couple of Undergraduate Research Projects and a summer of work-study employment at Miami’s Ecology Research Station.

My degree is in Physiological Ecology. Very broadly, this is the study of how physiological systems adapt to changing environments. Given this disciplinary specialization it should not be too surprising that my primary teaching responsibilities are Physiology and Ecology! I also teach introductory-level Human Biology, which examines the human as a biological species and draws heavily from both physiology and ecology. As opportunities arise, I enjoy very much advising the Honors and Independent Research projects of RC students. These have ranged from studies of how stress affects heat production in the brown fat of white-footed mice to surveys of salamanders.

My published research spans a diverse array of animals and environments. I’ve had a blast studying tropical tree frogs and marine toads on the island of Trinidad, bats in the lava caves of Oregon, nestling birds in the Mojave Desert, hatchling snapping turtles in Colorado, field mice galore from Ohio to Colorado to Alabama, and my all-time favorite critter, the pocket gopher, in the mountains of Colorado and California. I even got to dissect the brain of a manatee! Over the years grants to my research partners and I have been gratefully accepted from the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Forest Service, NSF, NIH, and Earthwatch.

Over the past three years, I’ve been engrossed in a totally different line of research — different for me anyway. I’m studying nut production and growth in isolated stands of American beech trees. Particularly, I’m interested in the relationship between nut production and predation on nuts by insects and small mammals. Trees don’t bite and they don’t run away, so this research, while not as inherently exciting as animal fieldwork, is a nice change. Trees also don’t do anything very fast, so I am committed to this project for the long haul. I was able to get this all underway with funds from a Mednick Fellowship.

I have been fortunate to have experienced tremendous colleagues, researchers, professors, and a hodge-podge of assorted and wonderful characters and co-workers. They were all experts in something or other and I learned immensely from their generously shared expertise. I’m trying to pass it on.

In my real life, I enjoy spending as much time as I can with my wonderful wife, two terrific sons and their beautiful wives, and my amazing two grandsons — both budding ornithologists and wildlife artists, and real sluggers to boot!

Adam Houlihan

Assistant Professor of Biology
B.S., University of Southern Mississippi; Ph.D., Cornell University
(e-mail)

Adam Houlihan obtained a PhD in microbiology from Cornell University in 2006. Before joining the faculty at Randolph College, Adam worked with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service from 2006 to 2008 and he was an assistant professor of microbiology at Wagner College in New York City from 2008 to 2011.

His research background is primarily in agricultural microbiology, with efforts focused on food safety and the discovery and characterization of natural antimicrobial compounds. His students have successfully published their findings in peer-reviewed scientific journals and presented at scientific conferences. Recent student projects have included: 1) the discovery of novel mechanisms to inhibit Salmonella species in food, 2) identification of antimicrobial plant exudates that inhibit foodborne pathogens on sushi and related raw foods, and 3) an analysis of the intestinal microflora of migratory waterbirds and the role these avian species play in the dissemination of human gastrointestinal pathogens.


Amanda Rumore

Instructor of Biology
B.S.,Virginia Tech, Biological Sciences; Graduate Certificate, Future Professoriate, Virginia Tech; Ph.D., Virginia Tech, Biological Sciences
(e-mail)

I recently completed my PhD in Biological Sciences at Virginia Tech this past spring (2012) and I am excited to come to Randolph with an extensive graduate career of teaching and research. Randolph seems to be a wonderful liberal arts community with a focus on teaching and learning while still engaging students in exciting research projects. I look forward to contributing to this Randolph environment over the next year.

My research interests are in human-fungal interactions and my dissertation and publications focus on the role of ubiquitous airborne fungi in the pathogenesis of allergic airway disorders. I also dabble in some biochemistry by trying to deduce the functional role of the major fungal allergens by studying how they interact with cell membrane lipids. Specifically I look at the innate immune response of human airway epithelial cells to both live spores or allergens and also uses mouse models to study the full-body immune response to these antigens. Results of this type of work may lead to better drug targets or treatment strategies for patients with fungal allergies for which currently few therapies exist.

My other passion is pedagogy and in particular science education. I follow a “learner-centered” approach to teaching where I challenge students to become lifelong learners through interactive and problem-based teaching. Many science courses reward students for their ability to remember facts and terms, but in reality, science is not a set of unconnected details to be memorized. Although information recall is an important basis to learning biological processes, it misses the aspect of real world experience and problem solving. This method of memorization does not encourage students to look at the underlying connection between scientific facts and theories in order to analyze complex concepts.

Thus I create an active and engaging learner-centered environment where students take control of his or her own learning rather than passively absorbing the words and ideas. My goal for all of my students is that they can take their new knowledge from my courses and apply it to much larger scientific concepts in order to develop a better understanding of science in society and empower them to successfully appreciate discovery and invention.

I live in Lynchburg with my husband Michael and our two adopted hound dogs, Maddie and Brady. In my free time I enjoy traveling abroad, blogging about renovating our 1920’s farmhouse, and I am an avid hunter/jumper equestrian though I always wish I had more time for each of these!

Kathy Schaefer

Associate Professor of Biology
B.A., DePauw University; Ph.D., University of Dayton
(e-mail)

For me, Randolph struck a chord during my first visit to campus. I was impressed with the campus and the facilities, but most of all, I was awed by students. More than 80 students attended my first talk, and not only were they eager to participate, they asked great questions. I knew this was a place where I could have meaningful interactions with the students.

I've always been interested in science, and my interest in teaching blossomed after graduation from college when I joined the Peace Corps and was stationed in Cameroon, West Africa. There, I taught farmers in the rainforest how to build and maintain fish ponds. After my time with the Peace Corps, I lived in the Netherlands before coming back to the United States to pursue graduate work so I could teach at the college level.

For me, education is about more than grades, classes and lectures. I believe one can learn so much more when information and theories learned in the classroom can be experienced in the laboratory. I think that students need to own the knowledge, not just be able to recite it. I want to excite and empower students so they can teach to others what they have just learned.

I teach cell biology, developmental biology, immunology and introductory biology. My lectures and laboratories are small, which means I'm able to connect to the student at her own level. I teach the students current techniques in the laboratory, and in turn they see the things they are learning in lecture applied in the lab.

Research is something near and dear to my heart literally. My doctoral research involved conducting stem cell research with mice. I am now trying to apply the techniques I learned with mouse stem cells to chicken stem cells. My current area of research is the embryonic development of coronary vasculature (the blood vessels which feed the heart muscle itself.) This semester, there is a student, Karishma Rajani, engaged in an independent study in my laboratory working on this research. In the picture, she and I are looking at cells through the inverted phase contrast microscope in my laboratory.

Chickens are organisms which easily lend themselves to the study of embryonic development. You can put a window in an egg shell and watch the dynamic developmental processes. Through this window you can also manipulate the chick embryo during development, study the effects, and observe the outcome.

The research going on in my lab could help scientists in the quest to develop better ways to treat and prevent heart disease.

More importantly, my research enables me to show students how science can be applied to real life issues. I want my students to learn, but I also want them to empower them to reach as far as they can in life. Mentoring plays a huge role in what Ive chosen to do.

Although I'm originally from Dayton, Ohio, I now live in Lynchburg with my two dogs, four cats and a house full of fur!

Douglas Shedd

The Catherine Ehrman Thoresen '23 and William E. Thoresen Professor of Biology
B.S., Rutgers University; Ph.D., Cornell University
(e-mail)

I became a biologist because I'm interested in why the world is the way it is, and the areas in which I specialize - behavior, ecology, and evolution - provide lots of answers.

I've studied animals ranging from ravens to lemurs, in places as close to home as the Randolph campus and as far away as the Serengeti plains of East Africa. Currently, I'm working on a research project in Ireland that focuses on the chough. This rare species of bird is ecologically linked to the traditional agricultural practices still in evidence along parts of Ireland's west coast.

When I'm not teaching, I like spending time with my family, reading, walking, watching birds and baseball, and discussing biology's philosophical implications with my students and friends. I also greatly enjoy exchanging emails with Biology alums, many of whom are engaged in fascinating careers and research.