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New living, learning community to welcome biology students

April 24, 2013

Each year, nearly a quarter of UW–Madison’s incoming freshmen arrive on campus interested in studying the biological sciences. But they don’t all take to it from the start.

“That first year can be especially hard,” says Janet Branchaw, interim director of the Institute for Biology Education. “Students in the biological sciences are faced with difficult foundational courses like math and chemistry, and they may not get to take a biology course until their second semester or even their second year. Many students just give up on science, but we’re trying to change that.”

Photo: Tom Gower


To help bio newbies get off to the right start, as many as 130 students will begin 2014 in BioHouse, the university’s 10th residential learning community.

BioHouse residents will use biology-themed social activities and a seminar course to explore the interdisciplinary nature of cutting-edge bioscience research and career opportunities, and to help chart their educational paths at UW–Madison.

The addition of BioHouse will create a trio of UW–Madison learning communities available to students interested in science. Leaders from environmental-sustainability-focused GreenHouse and WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) will help guide BioHouse programming.

“I’m interested in the possibility of incorporating a public service element into the program, for example,” says Tom Gower, professor of forest ecosystem ecology and BioHouse’s first faculty director. “GreenHouse and WISE already do that, and I’m looking forward to learning from their experiences.”

Gower has first-hand experience with the power of early encouragement and guidance.

“My true enthusiasm for my job comes from helping students understand educational opportunities and achieve their goals,” says Gower. “I was inspired by two exceptional teachers and mentors early in my academic career, and BioHouse is a great way to share my excitement with the next generation of scientists.”

It’s that excitement that makes Gower the perfect influence for new students, according to Branchaw.

“We want to help students keep their enthusiasm for science,” she says. “You can’t help being enthusiastic about science when you’re around Tom Gower. He really loves teaching biology and connecting with students, and I know he’s going to make a difference in these students’ lives.”

—Amy Bethel