• Overview
  • Faculty
  • Requirements
  • Advising
  • Career Tracks
  • Off-Campus Study
  • Unique Opportunities
  • Facilities
  • Alumni Profiles
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Course Schedule

Environmental Biology



Environmental biology focuses on the interaction between human impacts on the environment and biological systems. An environmental biologist investigates the impacts of actions, pollutants, and conditions on wild communities.

Students read and analyze papers from the primary literature. They then design, carry out and report on original research projects, developing skills as practicing scientists. In labs and discussions, students come to know the discipline by posing problems that are meaningful to them, solving problems through observation and experimentation, and presenting their findings to their classmates and professors.

Program Spotlight


Barbara Sisson

Barbara Sisson

Associate Professor of Biology, Chair of Health Professions Advising Committee

[email protected]
Skip Wittler

George “Skip” Wittler

Professor Emeritus of Biology, Director of Ceresco Conservancy

[email protected]
Mark Kainz

Mark Kainz

Professor of Biology, Associate Dean for the Catalyst Curriculum and Assessment Coordinator, Patricia and Philip McCullough Class of 1969 Professor in Biology

[email protected]
Memuna Khan

Memuna Khan

Associate Professor of Biology, Chair of Biology Department

[email protected]
Robert Wallace

Robert Wallace

Professor of Biology Emeritus

[email protected]
Sarah Frohardt-Lane

Sarah Frohardt-Lane

Associate Professor of History, Chair of American Studies

[email protected]


ENV 120, BIO 121 and 247, plus 11 additional credits in biology courses approved by the department.

Courses taken through the SEA or SES programs may be used to fulfill certain requirements for the major and minor.


Ripon College faculty and professional staff are dedicated to helping you reach your goals, whatever they may be and however often they may change along the way. It’s part of our value statement to you.

As a student at Ripon, you will be assigned a faculty adviser based on your area(s) of interest. You will meet with your faculty adviser throughout your time as a student to discuss your current aspirations, plan your course schedule and plot a future trajectory. Staff in the Office of Constituent Engagement and Career Services help to match your interests to concrete goals and construct a plan for success, offering support through three stages of career development – planning, exploration and search. Student Support Services provides tutoring and additional academic and skill development, as well as tools to help with note-taking, exam preparation, goal-setting and time management. Mentors in the Collaborative Learning Center provide in-depth, one-on-one or group mentoring for students about class projects and college-level writing, and can share problem-solving strategies to overcome academic obstacles.

Advising at Ripon.

Career Tracks

Environmental biology can become a path to careers in research and development, health care, the biomedical sciences, organismal/ecological biology, biotechnology, bioinformatics, conservation, communication, science education, the legal field, technical and pharmaceutical sales, and public policy. Alumni of our program are actively pursuing doctoral degrees in biostatistics, ecological chemistry and botany, marine biology, microbiology and neuroscience at major research universities across the country. Others are pursuing a variety of medical degrees in fields such as veterinary medicine, pharmacology, genetic counseling and radiation oncology.

Off-Campus Study

Whether you choose a program that is international or domestic, it is an experience bound to change your view of the world. Click to learn more about Off-Campus Study and Liberal Arts In Focus at Ripon College.

Financial aid continues for students who choose to participate in an approved study-abroad program, minimizing additional expenses.

Unique Opportunities

  • The 130-acre Ceresco Prairie Conservancy is a sustainability partnership between the Department of Natural Resources and Ripon College to restore this tract of land to its native prairie, oak savannah and wetlands habitat. Students assist in reseeding the prairie, harvesting seeds and battling invasive species. It includes public hiking and mountain bike trails and an environmental classroom. Students in botany, ecology and animal biology courses carry on research projects on various plants and animals.
  • Research opportunities and internships, in collaboration with Ripon College professors and major institutions across the country, in areas such as Eastern bluebirds behavior, zebrafish, plant viruses, genetics and rotifers.
  • The Oak Ridge Science Semester enables students to join ongoing investigations at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee in research areas as diverse as astrophysics, cell biology, DNA sequencing, genetic mutagenesis, parallel computing, robotics, toxicology and more.


Facilities & Ceresco Prairie Conservancy

The greenhouse in Farr Hall has three climate-controlled rooms that allow us to raise temperate, tropical and desert plants in their native conditions. Farr also features labs dedicated to cell culture, molecular and cell biology, microbiology, physiology, histology, aquatic research, and the study of animal specimen. Two laboratories for electron microscopy are available for student research projects.

Our botany, ecology and animal biology courses use the on-campus 130-acre Ceresco Prairie Conservancy, which contains wetlands, savannah and a large prairie restoration project.

A Brief History of the Ceresco Prairie Conservancy

“The black-eyed Susans were ablaze with color last fall,” observes George "Skip" Wittler, professor of biology, about Ripon College’s largest outdoor classroom, the Ceresco Prairie Conservancy. “There’s a spiritual aspect to the prairie. It’s more than just plants and animals — it’s humans, too.”

Prairie Burn

Arguably one of Ripon’s most valued teaching environments, the Ceresco Prairie Conservancy is 130 acres of native prairie, oak savanna and wetland habitat in the making. The area, which serves as a place of study as well as recreation, is the subject of numerous student research projects concentrating on various plants and animals. It also is part of the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Glacial Habitat Restoration Program, a partnership between the DNR and Ripon College, aimed at the restoration of the conservancy’s prairie grasses and forbs. “We often name things for what we take away, such as naming a housing subdivision for the lost sand hill crane habitat it replaces,” says Ellen Barth ’80, DNR wildlife biologist. “I think it’s neat that the Ceresco Prairie Conservancy is named for something we are putting back in to the landscape.”

Wittler, who serves as the director of the conservancy project, works with the DNR in the management and restoration of the land, which has 3.5 miles of public trails and the Patricia Kegel Environmental Classroom, west of Ripon’s J.M. Storzer Athletic Center. The beauty of the conservancy, in Professor of Biology Bill Brooks’ mind, is the return of a sizable portion of a past prairie ecosystem to Wisconsin.

“Prairie and oak savanna ecosystems have fallen to .01 percent of their former acreage in Wisconsin, and from 6,000 acres to six acres in Fond du Lac County,” Brooks says. “The gain of more than 100 acres of restored prairie is significant and provides a major area for student/faculty research in prairie use and land restoration, and the study of prairie structure and dynamics.”

flowerWorking in sections of 10 or more acres at a time, Ripon’s biology department is accomplishing the prairie, oak savanna and wetland restoration through the seeding and maintenance of native plants, and the removal of non-native, invasive species.

“The non-native prairie species don’t provide the necessary cover for animals in the winter,” Wittler says. “Native warm-season grasses stay upright even under heavy snow, providing needed shelter.” In an area that supports wildlife such as deer, fox, pheasant, sandhill cranes and turkey, Brooks and Wittler believe that encouraging the growth of the conservancy’s native plants will, in turn, encourage other animals to inhabit the area.

The conservancy’s wetlands won’t see changes for a couple of years, according to Wittler, but he hopes that, eventually, non-native reed canary grass will be eradicated and chord grass and other native grasses and sedges will be introduced. “We’d like to increase the diversity of the wetlands in hopes of attracting various waterfowl,” Wittler says. Although conservancy wetland restoration is on hold for now, Ripon has started to alter the makeup of the land in other areas.

White Flowers“Typically, we harvest the seeds, and the DNR takes care of the planting and mowing,” Wittler says. In 1998, an area was burned intentionally with the help of the DNR, in part to boost native prairie plant growth and also to allow Ripon biology students the chance to study the affects of the burn. Alumni and students also have joined Wittler in collecting native prairie seeds at Goose Pond, south of Pardeeville, Wisconsin, and on the conservancy prairie. Altogether, Wittler estimates the groups have gathered more than 20 different types of seeds.

The oak savanna habitat, spanning 15 acres of the conservancy, presents a different challenge, although the goal is the same as that of the prairie. Each fall, biology professors lead teams of volunteers in the removal of European buckthorn, an invasive plant whose main order of business, according to Brooks, is “strangling the oak trees.” In the past few years, Ripon alumni, students and friends have joined the professors in combating the buckthorn’s gnarled branches, first by sawing the plants down and then by applying short-lived herbicide to the stumps. “If you just cut the buckthorn down, it sprouts up again and is worse than before,” explains Wittler.

Runners in the PrairieThrough the process of restoring the habitats, entailing physical exertion as well as knowledge, much is learned. Since hands-on learning is Ripon’s trademark, the conservancy provides an ideal location for students to conduct animal and plant studies, or to simply sit, write or reflect.

“The conservancy provides a lot of students with senior research projects, just in keeping track of the animal and plant species year by year,” says Melissa Pischke ’98, who discovered through her research that the conservancy balsam poplar trees were from one clone. “It’s an exciting area for research, especially for chemistry and biology majors.”

Purple Prairie FlowersIn one of Brooks’ ecology labs, focusing on buckthorn removal, students learned reasons behind and the process of prairie restoration, according to Brooks. But it’s the “Biology 500″ senior thesis course that demands the hard-nosed research. Many students select some aspect of the conservancy to be the topic of their research project. Their studies have added valuable insight into the mechanics of Ripon’s delicate ecosystems.

“The conservancy provides an amazing classroom where Ripon students can participate in the restoration of an endangered ecosystem,” says Sara Tiner ’98, who conducted her senior research project on prairie forbs. “Ripon students are at an advantage because of the research and learning opportunities made possible by the prairie — for both the College and community, the prairie offers a chance to relax, bird watch or catch a glimpse of our wildlife.”

Conservancy Map

Ceresco Prairie Map

Alumni Profiles

Recent Alumni of the Biology Department

Sam Sondalle ’11, a biology and chemistry double major, developed a special interest in the developmental biology of animals. He spent two of his undergraduate summers on research projects funded by a National Science Foundation REU award. Sam also had the opportunity to travel to Spain — twice — as part of Ripon’s Maymester (now Liberal Arts in Focus) trips. He is a co-author of an article published in Nature in May 2011. He now is studying in a combined M.D. and Ph.D. program at Yale University.

Biology major Amber Rico ’11 spent two academic years and one summer studying virus replication with Associate Professor of Biology Mark Kainz. The summer leading up to her senior year was spent conducting research at Texas A&M University. Now, she is working on a Ph.D. at Colorado State University, with a special interest in the molecular basis of infectious disease.