mercyhurst biology


Biology is the science of life. And, much like itself, biology is complex, fascinating and full of limitless opportunities. At Mercyhurst University, our rigorous, comprehensive curriculum will prepare you to excel academically; that’s why 89 percent of biology majors experience job placement or are accepted into an advanced degree program after graduation.

Your classroom may start in a modern biology laboratory, but you’ll also venture into local habitats — from Lake Erie to Presque Isle State Park and the 10-acre farm with accompanying small vineyard in Northeast Pennsylvania — to gain firsthand experience in the field. One of our more recent additions is the Hirtzel Human Anatomy and Forensic Anthropology Lab located on the Mercyhurst North East campus. This state-of-the-art resource facility features a cadaver lab, a room for processing human remains, a digital x-ray system, a combination anatomy lab and a classroom equipped with stations for cadaver dissection, a “green” energy recovery and air ventilation system, and a high-tech security system.

With a 14-1 student-to-faculty ratio and an average class size of 20 students, you’re never just a number at Mercyhurst. In fact, many upper level courses average 10 or fewer students. We keep our classes small so you can get individualized attention from professors to ensure your success in class and beyond.

A Hands-On Education

At Mercyhurst, we believe that an education in biology happens not just in the classroom and the lab, but also in the field. That’s why we’re committed to making it happen in a variety of ways that include:

  • Maintaining a new ecology laboratory that features three 180-gallon tanks built into the wall for viewing from both the hallway and the classroom. These tanks replicate the environments of a reef off of Turks and Caicos, Lake Erie’s surface to mid-level waters and the stream habitat of Elk Creek, a nearby major tributary of Lake Erie.
  • Being members of the Regional Science Consortium, a collaborative, nonprofit organization that focuses on and coordinates educational and research projects for Lake Erie and the upper Ohio River Basin.
  • Owning and managing two major natural areas within the Pennsylvania Lake Erie watershed for student research and field trips: the Jean B. and J. Douglas James Ecological & Wildlife Preserve, a 35-acre forest and wetland habitat within a larger greenway adjacent to the Asbury Woods Nature Center, and the Mary Jo and Ed Maier Field Station, a 17-acre property containing a mature bottomland forest and channel wetlands within the floodplain of Elk Creek.
  • Encouraging students to participate in original research projects and to present their findings at regional and national conferences.
  • Offering a variety of courses during the summer term at the nearby Tom Ridge Environmental Center at Presque Isle State Park. Additionally, we also offer three summer field courses in Plant Ecology, Invertebrate Zoology and Restoration Ecology in which students participate in hands-on learning during a trip between Pennsylvania and Texas.
  • Offering a course in marine biology every other year that takes students to a Caribbean island to snorkel, dive on a reef and conduct hands-on ecological research.
  • Having access to a variety of instruments to study DNA, including a real-time PCR machine, a genomic sequencer and a genetic analyzer.  This equipment enables students to amplify, quantify and sequence DNA from a variety of samples.
  • Acquiring a 10-acre farm with accompanying small vineyard in Northeast, PA., to conduct research in sustainable agriculture and soil science.  The farm features a honeybee colony, large-scale vermicomposting system for disposal of food and landscape waste, and a system of raised beds for propagation of vegetables and herbs.
  • Being a member of Beta Beta Beta, a national professional society for students that is dedicated to improving the understanding and appreciation of biology and promoting scientific research.

A degree from Mercyhurst prepares you for this exciting and dynamic career.

Major(s) 2+3 Accelerated Pharmacy
  3+4 Accelerated Medicine
  4+1 Accelerated Program, M.S. in Secondary Education
  Accelerated Chiropractic
  Accelerated Podiatry
  Biology Major
  Environmental Science
Minor(s) Biology Minor
Concentration(s) Medical Technology Concentration
  Neuroscience Concentration
  Sustainability Concentration

Ready to begin your journey in biology?  Apply online today -- it's free and getting your application started takes only a few brief minutes.  Interested students may also consult the course catalog for more information.  As a liberal arts institution, all undergraduate students complete Mercyhurst's core curriculum

The primary goal of the Department of Biology is to provide thorough and basic training in the broad field of biology through a forward-looking and comprehensive curriculum that emphasizes critical thinking and the development of a scientific perspective. This includes instruction by dedicated faculty in each of the principal areas within biology and supporting coursework in mathematics, physics, and chemistry. Central to the program is the department's commitment to experiential learning through rigorous laboratory exercises, hands-on field experiences, and the opportunity to participate in faculty-student collaborative research, travel courses, professional conferences, community service, and professional practicum training. Personal attention and close interaction between faculty and student provides the biology major with a solid core of learning, experience, and preparation, and the means to secure fulfilling employment or continue their education at the graduate and professional level.

  • Demonstrate knowledge in three major areas of biology: cellular and molecular biology (including genetics), ecology and evolution, and organismal biology
  • Critically analyze scientific information.
  • Conduct scientific research in a professional manner
  • Communicate scientific findings in a professional manner

The Department of Biology is a small and close-knit community where students benefit from one-on-one interaction with their supervising faculty member and have the opportunity to work with professors from other scientific disciplines such as Chemistry, Psychology, Public Health and Physics. This provides a unique perspective on biological systems and provides students with a skill set that sets them apart from other graduate school and job applicants.


Research Opportunities

Research Topic: Sustainable Agriculture

Research Description: Sustainable methods of food production that minimize chemical inputs lead to a healthier and biologically diverse soil ecosystem.

Student Learning: Students learn practical methods of low input food production and sound principals of experimental design.

Career Training: graduate school or work in the biotechnical industry

Research Topic: Marine Environmental

Research Description: Harvesting and establishing continued growth of coral fragments from original parent hard or soft corals

Student Learning: Sterile techniques, harvesting protocol, water quality, and quantitative growth measurements

Career Training: Marine or freshwater science, environmental, graduate school

Research Topic: Neuroanatomy

Research Description: The mapping and distribution of neurons that provide subcortical projections to the mediodorsal thalamic nucleus in monkey brains

Student Learning: neuroanatomy, microscopy, camera lucida drawing, immunocytochemistry and tract-tracing                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
Career Training: graduate school, medical school, research job

Research Topic: Physiological Ecology

Research Description: Environmental challenges (temperature, water availability, UV, etc.) that animals face and the adaptive strategies used for survival

Student Learning: ecological field techniques, dissection, fluorescent microscopy, biochemical assays, lipid/protein isolation, assessment of physiological tolerance

Career Training: graduate school, medical school, veterinary school, research job

Research Topic: Wildlife and Conservation Genetics

Research Description: Using genetics to investigate how species are interconnected, especially plants and animals of conservation concern

Student Learning: DNA isolation, PCR, gel electrophoresis, DNA and fragment analysis, reading and analyzing scientific data

Career Training: wildlife/fisheries management, graduate school, biotechnology


Amy Burniston
Instructor of Biology
Christopher Dolanc, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Biology
Darlene Melchitzky, M.S.
Laboratory Director and Research Associate
David Hyland
J. Michael Campbell, Ph.D.
Chair of Biology Department, Professor of Biology
Katie Kilmer
Larry Gauriloff, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Biology
Michael Elnitsky, Ph.D.
Dean, Zurn College of Natural and Health Sciences, Associate Professor of Biology, Pre-Health Advisor
Mike Foulk
Assistant Professor of Biology
Sara Turner, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Sarah Bennett, M.S.
Lecturer of Biology
Stephen Johnson, M.S., M.T. (ASCP)
Program Director, School of Medical Technology, Saint Vincent Health Center
Summer Ekelund-Weaver, M.A.
Instructor of Biology