Building a Department from the Ground Up

Building a Department from the Ground Up

As A&M-San Antonio celebrates its 15th anniversary, we’re highlighting the pioneers and trailblazers who have helped make the University one of the region’s most vibrant and fastest-growing institutions of higher education. For more great stories, check out the 15th-anniversary edition of Adelante, the University’s official magazine.

By Kiko Martinez

When Megan Wise de Valdez, professor of biology and chair of Natural Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences, first read the job description posted by Texas A&M-San Antonio in 2010, she thought it sounded like a perfect fit for her. She knew she would be the first biology faculty member at the University, a challenge she believed she could take on with the administrative strengths she had.

“As a biologist, I feel like I’m multifaceted,” Valdez said. “I enjoy administration and research and teaching. I felt that Texas A&M-San Antonio, because it was so new, would let me be all those things. If I had gone to a more established university, I wouldn’t have gotten to exercise all those parts of my personality.”

But working at a fledgling university also meant having to be creative and sometimes going the extra mile. When Valdez started at the A&M-San Antonio, the biology department didn’t have much in the way of resources, other than four microscopes stored in a coat closet.

“I would have to wheel the four microscopes from the library across a parking lot and into one of the classrooms,” she said. “I’d have my students rotate around those four microscopes.”

Luckily, Valdez said, a biology program can sell itself when given a little TLC, and she was given the freedom and flexibility to strategically grow the program.

“I felt like a pioneer,” Valdez said. “I learned so much along the way.”

Today, the biology program is part of the vibrant Department of Natural Sciences, which also provides educational experiences in the fields of chemistry and water resources sciences and technology. Offering a B.A. and B.S. in Biology and Chemistry, the department prepares students for direct entry into the workplace, teacher certification, or preparation for graduate programs. The department also hosts two graduate programs, including an M.S. in Water Resources Sciences and Technology and an M.S. in Biology.

Valdez said that undergraduate research, where students work directly with professors, is also critically important to the department. During her tenure at the University, Valdez has included undergraduates in various research topics, including the urban ecology of mosquitoes. Specifically, she and her students have studied neighborhood predictors of adult mosquito distribution and abundance, such as housing conditions, socioeconomic status, proximity to urban centers, and population density.

“I’m proud of having been able to make a mark on this University by taking something from zero to a very successful program,” she said. “I was able to do more research with the help of my undergraduate students who were willing to take a chance.”

Each year, some of those students attend an annual regional scientific meeting called the Southwestern Association of Parasitology at the University of Oklahoma Biology Station. While there, some of them get the opportunity to present their own research.

“We have really dedicated, smart, energetic and curious students in the biology program,” Valdez said. “The students are one of the things that keep me so motivated at this University. I genuinely feel that we are giving them a high-quality educational experience that is very unique.”

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