Plumage, parasites & pipettes

UND Biology leans on rich history and promising future

This duck was among those banded by UND biology students in September at Minnesota’s Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Sara Titera/UND Alumni Association & Foundation

Editor’s note: The Winter 2021 issue of the UND Alumni Magazine includes a number of stories about the UND Biology Department, a place “where students learn to soar,” as the cover-story headline notes. With the magazine’s permission, we’re reprinting two of those stories in UND Discovery and UND Today.  

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The Department of Biology is one of UND’s oldest, with roots as deep as the University’s original curriculum.

About 3,500 students have graduated from the department since its founding. Every year, more than 100 new alumni go on to become conservationists, doctors and more.

Biology Department chair Peter Meberg, ’82, says that about 85% of today’s undergraduates enroll in the professional health emphasis — most with the intention of going on to medical school.

The rest enroll in general biology, molecular and integrative biology, or fisheries and wildlife biology.

“One thing that I think is really interesting about the department is that because we have a broad range of disciplines, we have a lot of good collaboration,” Meberg says, crediting several faculty members for their work spanning genomic sequencing to wildlife management.

“One really critical thing when you’re handling any kind of animal is thinking about the ethics of it,” UND Professor Susan Ellis-Felege instructs her students. For example, “we want to minimize stress on the birds.” Photo by Sara Titera/UND Alumni Association & Foundation

That collaboration is illustrated through the work of faculty such as Susan Ellis-Felege and Vasyl Tkach, among others, who impact students and bolster research efforts.

Erik Fritzell, ’68, likens today’s faculty to those who shaped his UND experience more than 50 years ago.

“The great faculty characterize the UND Biology program and have since I was young,” Fritzell says. “The best faculty — those like Vasyl and Susan — are passionate about teaching, and they’re passionate about scholarship or research.”

Fritzell says he, like many, originally pursued a biology degree enroute to becoming a doctor like his father. But during his work-study experience, he quickly realized that his true passion was in wildlife biology. “It was a world of discovery — discovery about what was already known, and the discovery of new knowledge,” he said.

Before retiring in 2005, Fritzell was recruited to Oregon State University’s top-tier Fisheries & Wildlife Biology program, where he became an associate dean. There, he imparted his knowledge to students from around the world — knowledge that originated with his education at UND.

“I realized how significant it was that my UND teachers and mentors helped set me on this path,” he said.

His continuing involvement with the program led Fritzell to establish the Wildlife-Game Management Scholarship Endowment at UND.

“When an alum makes a donation to an institution, it provides the highest form of acknowledgment for a job well done,” he said.

To date, more than 55 donors have given more than $300,000 to his endowment. As of November 2021, six UND students have received scholarship awards from the fund, ranging from $1,000 to $4,500. Fritzell hopes that students well into the future can benefit from the same educational experience he enjoyed.

By Alyssa Konickson and Jenn Lukens
UND Alumni Association & Foundation

Photo by Sara Titera/UND Alumni Association & Foundation