As members of the biology faculty at the University of Montana, we want to share some good news about our division and our positive outlook for the future. Lately, some opinions about UM published in these pages have been negative, and although the university faces a tough budget, the quality of our faculty and the education we give our students have never been better.
Biology is one of several departments at UM that has some of the world’s leading scholars. This year, faculty in ecology were named among the most productive in the world. In 2016, faculty in biology and the life sciences were awarded more than $40 million in research grants from outside sources. This money supports the university, funds pioneering research projects, promotes the training of our students and flows out to our surrounding communities. We collaborate with other departments and colleges all over campus to create innovative programs, including Wildlife Biology, Bioinformatics, Neuroscience, and the Center for Translational Medicine. Our faculty members are changing the world for the better and propelling UM toward a brighter future.
We are also passionate about teaching. We are constantly trying new methods to engage students of all kinds. We offer them inventive ways to learn in the classroom, internships that give them hands-on experiences outside the university, and chances to study abroad. In addition, faculty encourage students to do cutting-edge research in their laboratories and in the field, here in Montana and around the world. Under dedicated mentors, these students are trained in every aspect of doing science. They work in teams, learning to collaborate and communicate both with their peers and the general public. As a result, a high fraction of our undergrads are accepted into competitive fields like human and veterinarian medicine, and they are some of the best prepared in the state. UM biology undergrads have recently won national awards, ranging from the American Society of Microbiology to Udall Scholarships.
We encourage our students to take their skills and energy into the community – and they do! Our students are generous with their time, and volunteer thousands of hours to worthwhile causes. They assist at local hospices, health care centers and hospitals, they help teach river ecology to elementary school kids, volunteer at the SpectrUM science museum and Missoula Insectarium, raise money for the Poverello Center, and work as naturalists and summer camp leaders.
While we speak only for biology, we know that the faculty in many UM departments can tell similar success stories. We are proud to stand beside our excellent colleagues in the humanities and arts, and we hope they will also share their positive stories. Yet, like other campuses across the county, we face a rapidly changing world and many new challenges. Right now, UM faculty, staff and students are working together to decide how we can best meet those challenges. We must hold on to our core mission and be open-minded, practical and resourceful. Despite anticipated budget cuts and the changes to programs and staff, UM will continue to open students’ eyes to new perspectives and give them the skills they need to make a difference in the world.
We in biology are confident that UM has the academic quality, innovative spirit and commitment to educational excellence to stand out among the best universities in the United States.