New Animal Behavior Minor Added to Curriculum
The interdisciplinary minor lies at the intersection of biology, psychology, and neuroscience—three prominent interests at the college—and was added to help meet student demand.
The minor introduces students to fundamental elements of animal behavior, the neurobiological mechanisms underlying behavior, and the ecological and evolutionary influences that help to shape animal behavior. Students will also be exposed to research methods commonly used in the field.
The animal behavior minor connects to the Ursinus Quest and invites students to explore questions closely linked to the curriculum: How should we live with other animals as members of the interrelated living world? How can we understand interactions between animals and between animals and their environments? How can we make sense of the best (altruism) and worst (aggression) of human behavior? What will I do to become a respectful cohabitant of planet Earth?
Although Ursinus has offered many of the courses that constitute the animal behavior curriculum for some time, the new minor provides a way for students to demonstrate their focused pursuit of the field, which is especially helpful for those intending to pursue continuing study of or careers in animal behavior.
Associate Professor of Biology Cory Straub and Visiting Assistant Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology Lauren Makuch are co-coordinators of the minor.
“There is substantial interest in the minor from neuroscience, biology, and psychology students pursuing careers in veterinary medicine, wildlife and conservation biology, and in public and private institutions such as zoos, aquariums, and conservation groups,” said Straub.
Neuroscience major Mya Knappenberger ’23 was one of those students. “I have wanted to create an animal behavior minor since my freshman year because I’ve always had a love for animals and how they think,” said Knappenberger. She researched the courses offered at Ursinus; what requirements were needed for biology, neuroscience, and psychology minors; and what other colleges and universities offer for animal behavior. “Last spring, I put together a list of required courses and collaborated with Dr. Straub and Dr. Makuch to include the neuroscience side and the biology side in the process.”
Last summer, Knappenberger was accepted into a select Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program for animal behavior at Indiana University and conducted a research project connecting animal behavior with behavioral neuroscience, specifically regarding memory in rats. “This program helped me realize that I want to include animal behavior in my future in graduate school. I am hoping that having an animal behavior minor available at Ursinus will allow our students to have the same experiences that I did.” Knappenberger has now added animal behavior to her list of minors, which also includes biology and psychology.
Between 23 and 24 credits are required to complete the animal behavior minor, which fulfills the LINQ requirement because it includes courses from the neuroscience program, as well as courses from the biology, psychology, sociology or environmental studies departments. Sample courses include “Behavioral Neuroscience” (NEUR/ PSYC-330), “Advanced Research Methods in Behavioral Neuroscience” (NEUR/ PSYC-430), “Issues in Ecology & Evolution” (BIO-101), and “Animal Behavior” (BIO-359).
“This new interdisciplinary minor provides a great opportunity for students to engage with topics ranging from genes, cells, and circuits underlying behavior to ecology and human-animal relationships,” said Makuch.