skip to content
  • Calendar
  • Maps

College of Science

Growing a dream

Alissa Van Tassell said dreams are much like the plants she studied and tended on her way to a double major in botany and archeology.

“Plants grow and change for a long time, and then all of a sudden, there’s a beautiful flower,” Van Tassell said. “The faculty, staff and friends I’ve made at Weber State have been the ones watering me, helping me achieve my dreams and goals. With their support, just like a plant, my dreams and goals have grown bigger and bigger.”

After graduating with honors in the spring of 2019, Van Tassell headed to a master’s program in botany at the University of Nebraska Omaha.

No one is more surprised at her success than Van Tassell, whose education nearly withered as a high school dropout. She earned a degree only after her 4-year-old daughter enrolled in Head Start, which offered parents a path to graduation.

“I decided back then I wanted a diploma, just so my kids knew they had to get at least a high school degree, so I like to tell people I actually graduated from Head Start,” she said.

With three children, an ailing mother and household bills, Van Tassell used her high school education to secure a variety of jobs in business. Finally, she decided the future looked brighter as a university graduate, and Weber State was the right combination of convenience and affordability.

“My very first day at Weber State, I pulled into Dee Events Center to park, and I sat in my car looking at all these young kids, going, I’m too old, I don’t know what I’m doing here,” Van Tassell said. “I probably sat there for five minutes just giving myself a pep talk before I got out of my car and got on the shuttle bus.

“Initially I started out being the quiet kid in class. I figured I was too old for college, so I kept my head down and took tests the day they opened. But as I got in the botany department, I was able to step out of my box. I learned I was a lot smarter than I ever gave myself credit.”

In addition to her course work, Van Tassell served as botany club president, worked as a laboratory and greenhouse assistant, earned scholarships, received a grant to conduct and present undergraduate research on flavonoids and anthocyanin in elderberries. She also participated in extended summer field projects.

“Weber State definitely taught me to step out of my box and become the person I want to be and not the person I think people want me to be,” she said.
Van Tassell hopes she might get another chance to bloom as a Wildcat: “My goal, I think, eventually, is to come back to Weber State as a professor.”

NSF Grants Help Attract Underrepresented Students 

Two new Weber State programs received nearly $1 million in National Science Foundation (NSF) grants to help improve graduation rates for underrepresented and low-income students studying physical sciences.

The programs, Weber State Scholars (WEST) and Geoscience Education Targeting Underrepresented Populations (GETUP), will help WSU increase recruitment, retention and graduation rates of students in chemistry, geosciences, mathematics, physics, computer science and engineering. WEST Scholars began offering four-year scholarships to study in STEM fields in fall 2019. The low-income, high-achieving students in the program complete their course work in groups, attend a weekly science, technology, engineering and math seminar course, meet regularly with faculty mentors and participate in leadership opportunities.

Project GETUP will focus on early outreach and access to collaborative research for high school and university students. The program will also allow WSU’s Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences to test ways to engage, recruit and eventually graduate students.

Highlighting Earth, Environment and Technology

Weber State raised its profile in earth and environmental sciences and geography during the 2018–19 academic year, introducing a new department name and interdisciplinary program.

The WSU Board of Trustees approved an update to the name of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, formerly the Department of Geosciences, to reflect student career goals and expectations.

The change, which took effect in fall 2018, falls in line with department names at other institutions and corresponds with earth or environmental science courses taught at local high schools. 

The new name also makes it easier for students who are interested in environmental topics and earth sciences to discover department programs, and reflects the fact that many students plan on careers in the environmental sciences side of STEM professions.

A World of Opportunity

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the demand for environmental scientists, hydrologists and geoscientists will grow a robust 10 to 14% from 2016 to 2026.

The American Geosciences Institute projected a workforce shortage of 90,000 geoscientists nationwide by 2022.

Advancing to Medical School

Weber State beat the national average for students who applied and were accepted to medical school for the 2019–20 academic year by 33%, including five members of the Multicultural Advancement in Science (MAS) club.

Started by associate professor of zoology Jon Marshall in 2014, the club is geared toward encouraging and providing opportunities for community building and outreach for student populations that have traditionally been underrepresented in science, though all science students may participate to understand systems of oppression that have discouraged certain students from pursuing science careers.

“Our focus on getting out into the community and sharing our passion with elementary school students is really powerful when those students see the diverse faces of college students that are pursuing careers in science,” Marshall said.

Of the 30-plus club members since its inception, all have graduated WSU or are currently enrolled. The majority have continued to graduate schools in science-related fields.

MAS Members Starting Medical School

Gideon Lomiiko, University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Eryberto Martinez, Creighton University School of Medicine

Joaquin Zetina Huesca, University of Utah, School of Medicine

Sara Naveed, Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine

Oscar Bedolla, University of Utah, School of Medicine