Great resources build great biology experiences

Written by: 
Savanna Bachelder
BYU-Hawaii’s Biology program was ranked first in value by Best Value Schools, according to its website. Best Value Schools justified its ranking by saying: “Brigham Young University- Hawaii provides its biology students with an unprecedented educational value.
“General Biology, Marine Biology, and Biochemistry stu- dents alike have access to abundant resources at BYU, including a comprehensive research and thesis course. This challenging class... covers everything from scientific literature analysis and hypothesis development to oral and written communications skills for scientific presentations.”
Professors agreed the research aspect of the program is a major strength. Dr. Georgi Lukov, the chair of the Natural Science Department, said faculty members are heavily invested in the research program. “We take a lot of pride, in the good sense of the word, in providing students with valuable, practical research experience.
“Specifically in the biology and marine conservation side, we have been able to provide good opportunities for students to go and participate. We constantly take students to Alaska or Tahiti to do research with some of our faculty and collaborators.”
Students have good opportunities to do field work on the island as well, according to Lukov. “We have a marine team here, and they are working on taking the department boat and going to collect samples for their research.”
Dr. Roger Goodwill, a biology professor and the facilita- tor of many research-based trips, said the equipment BYUH has access to is a big factor in the program’s success. “The board of church education has been very supportive in buying us equip- ment for labs, both in chemistry and biology. The equipment we have is top-notch. It’s the kind of equipment only graduate students use. And yet, our undergraduates are using it.”
According to Goodwill, the experience in the field and in labs gives BYUH students an advantage in a professional setting. “I had one student who left [BYUH], and she went into biotech. She emailed me and said, ‘We have all these people with bachelor’s degrees who know theory, but they can’t do anything. We have all kinds of Ph.D.’s for theory, but we need people who know how to do it.’ It’s easy for our students to go out and sell themselves as a bio technician, because they know how to do it.”
Lukov gave appreciation for the students in the Biology program. “I give credit to a lot of our students. They are very proactive... Living here, they are just on fire.
“A lot of them look for places they can use [their biology experience]. We had two or three students who interned with One Ocean, which is a service up in the North Shore. They basically provide [help for] the tourist attraction by taking people out and having them swim with the sharks.” He also said, “Our students go and help them with their research stuff, like data collection and processing.”
Santhi Lavanya Vakapalli, adjunct professor for General Chemistry, said, “It’s a great environment. We have great equipment, engaging labs, and nice faculty. Through our research at this university, the Biochemistry Department
is making soap from waste vegetable oil and supplying it to the cafeteria.” Santhi has degrees in mathematics, physics and chemistry, and holds a master’s of analytical chemistry, knowl- edge she said she shares one-on-one with the students.
Students in the Biology program said they benefit greatly from that personal interaction, including Camron Sharp, a sophomore biomedical science major from California. “I think the Biology Department here at BYUH has a range of instruc- tors who care about their particular field. It makes it a better environment to learn what we will later be using.
Date Published: 
Thursday, February 9, 2017
Last Edited: 
Thursday, February 9, 2017