The Department of Biology provides an intellectually challenging learning environment for students of the life sciences. In laboratory, field and discussions, students come to understand the foundations and diversity of life by posing meaningful biological questions, answering those questions through observation and experimentation, and presenting their findings to a wide audience. These experiences prepare students to make informed decisions in their daily lives, to work in a range of careers and to pursue advanced professional programs.

At Ripon College, students really do science. Laboratory sections are intentionally small so that every student gets hands-on experience designing studies, using equipment and analyzing data. In labs and discussions, students come to know the discipline by posing problems that are meaningful to them, solving problems through observation and experimentation, and presenting their findings to their classmates and professors. Recent graduates report that they were selected for positions because of their lab experiences and were promoted because they understood experimental design.

Ripon College offers studies in chemistry-biology and psychobiology. Students interested in the health professions of chiropractic medicine, dentistry, medical technology, allopathic and osteopathic medicine, physician assistant, nursing, optometry, pharmacy, physical therapy, corrective therapy, podiatry and veterinary medicine will find that a biology major is a good preparation. Students also may pursue a minor in environmental biology.


Latest News

Alaura Lemieux '20

Alaura Lemieux ’20 is research associate for COVID-19 testing for CDC studies

Alaura Lemieux of Luck, Wisconsin, is a research associate at the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute, the main lab contracted to do the bulk of testing […]

Robin Forbes-Lorman, left and Miye Aoki-Kramer '20 working in a lab

Faculty, student have paper published on

Associate Professor of Biology Robin Forbes-Lorman and Miye Aoki-Kramer ’20 of Seattle, Washington, had a paper published on, a database of research in the […]

Gregg Petersen '78, left, and Nancy Buck Hintz '82

Ripon College connections lead Gregg Petersen ’78 to supporting bird conservation

Gregg Petersen ’78 of Columbia, Maryland, says that he grew up as a “bird nerd.” After retiring as a defense consultant in 2015, he spent […]


Robin Forbes-Lorman

Forbes-Lorman, Robin

Assistant Professor of Biology

ben grady

Grady, Benjamin R.

Assistant Professor of Biology

Mark Kainz

Kainz, Mark

Professor of Biology, Associate Dean for the Catalyst Curriculum and Assessment Coordinator, Patricia and Philip McCullough Class of 1969 Professor in Biology

Memuna Khan

Khan, Memuna

Professor of Biology, Chair of Biology Department

Barbara Sisson

Sisson, Barbara

Associate Professor of Biology, Chair of Health Professions Advising Committee

Robert Wallace

Wallace, Robert

Professor of Biology Emeritus

Skip Wittler

Wittler, George "Skip"

Professor Emeritus of Biology, Director of Ceresco Conservancy


Ripon College faculty and professional staff are dedicated to helping you reach your goals, whatever they may be and however often they may change along the way. It’s part of our value statement to you.

As a student at Ripon, you will be assigned a faculty adviser based on your area(s) of interest. You will meet with your faculty adviser throughout your time as a student to discuss your current aspirations, plan your course schedule and plot a future trajectory. We also work collaboratively with Ripon College Career and Professional Development to help match your interests and skills to concrete goals and construct a plan for professional success offering personalized career counseling, off-campus learning opportunities and an online job board with potential to connect with local, national and international employers. Our collaboration with Student Support Services provides tutoring and additional academic and skill development, as well as tools to help with note-taking, exam preparation, goal-setting and time management. Likewise, Mentors in the Franzen Center provide in-depth, one-on-one or group mentoring for students about class projects and college-level writing, and can share problem-solving strategies to overcome academic obstacles.

Advising at Ripon


Requirements for a major in biology: A student majoring in biology will earn 33 credits in biology toward the major. They must take four core courses, three distribution courses with laboratories, one in each area of organismal, cell and molecular, and ecology and evolutionary biology, and at least nine additional elective credits. Two courses toward the major must be taken at the 300 level. In addition to courses in biology, two chemistry courses (CHM 111, 112) and statistics (MTH 120 or PSC 211) are prerequisites for biology majors.

Core Courses: 121, 200, 501, 502

Organismal: 206, 211, 215, 216, 226, 227, 312, 314

Cell and Molecular: 219, 314, 327, 328, 329

Ecology and  Evolution: 215, 216, 227, 247, 339

No more than four credits of directed research (x97), independent study (BIO x98), or internships (x99) may be counted toward the major.  BIO 110, 310 and 400 will not count toward any major or minor in biology.

Career Tracks

Graduates pursue a variety of professions in the biological sciences, academia, medicine and beyond. We are proud of our tradition of excellence in placing students in leading medical programs. Our five-year acceptance rate average to medical school is 75 percent. The national acceptance rate is 41 percent.

Unique Opportunities

  • The 130-acre Ceresco Prairie Conservancy, a restored tract of land consisting of native prairie, oak savannah and wetlands habitat. The prairie serves as a classroom, and research site for student research projects.  Students assist in reseeding the prairie, harvesting seeds and battling invasive species. It includes public hiking and mountain bike trails and an environmental classroom.
  • Research opportunities and internships, in collaboration with Ripon College professors, in areas such as avian ecology of eastern bluebirds, developmental biology, virology, aquatic ecology, and neuroscience.
  • The Oak Ridge Science Semester enables students to join ongoing investigations at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee in research areas as diverse as astrophysics, cell biology, DNA sequencing, genetic mutagenesis, parallel computing, robotics, toxicology and more.


Ceresco Prairie Wide ShotFacilities & Ceresco Prairie Conservancy

The greenhouse in Farr Hall has three climate-controlled rooms that allow us to raise temperate, tropical and desert plants in their native conditions. Farr also features labs dedicated to cell culture, molecular and cell biology, microbiology, physiology, histology, aquatic research, and the study of animal specimen.

Our botany, ecology and animal biology courses use the on-campus 130-acre Ceresco Prairie Conservancy, which contains wetlands, savannah and a large prairie restoration project.

A Brief History of the Ceresco Prairie Conservancy

“The black-eyed Susans were ablaze with color last fall,” observes George "Skip" Wittler, professor of biology, about Ripon College’s largest outdoor classroom, the Ceresco Prairie Conservancy. “There’s a spiritual aspect to the prairie. It’s more than just plants and animals — it’s humans, too.”

Arguably one of Ripon’s most valued teaching environments, the Ceresco Prairie Conservancy is 130 acres of native prairie, oak savanna and wetland habitat in the making. The area, which serves as a place of study as well as recreation, is the subject of numerous student research projects concentrating on various plants and animals. It also is part of the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Glacial Habitat Restoration Program, a partnership between the DNR and Ripon College, aimed at the restoration of the conservancy’s prairie grasses and forbs. “We often name things for what we take away, such as naming a housing subdivision for the lost sand hill crane habitat it replaces,” says Ellen Barth ’80, DNR wildlife biologist. “I think it’s neat that the Ceresco Prairie Conservancy is named for something we are putting back in to the landscape.”

Wittler, who serves as the director of the conservancy project, works with the DNR in the management and restoration of the land, which has 3.5 miles of public trails and the Patricia Kegel Environmental Classroom, west of Ripon’s J.M. Storzer Athletic Center. The beauty of the conservancy, in Professor of Biology Bill Brooks’ mind, is the return of a sizable portion of a past prairie ecosystem to Wisconsin.

“Prairie and oak savanna ecosystems have fallen to .01 percent of their former acreage in Wisconsin, and from 6,000 acres to six acres in Fond du Lac County,” Brooks says. “The gain of more than 100 acres of restored prairie is significant and provides a major area for student/faculty research in prairie use and land restoration, and the study of prairie structure and dynamics.”

Working in sections of 10 or more acres at a time, Ripon’s biology department is accomplishing the prairie, oak savanna and wetland restoration through the seeding and maintenance of native plants, and the removal of non-native, invasive species.

“The non-native prairie species don’t provide the necessary cover for animals in the winter,” Wittler says. “Native warm-season grasses stay upright even under heavy snow, providing needed shelter.” In an area that supports wildlife such as deer, fox, pheasant, sandhill cranes and turkey, Brooks and Wittler believe that encouraging the growth of the conservancy’s native plants will, in turn, encourage other animals to inhabit the area.

The conservancy’s wetlands won’t see changes for a couple of years, according to Wittler, but he hopes that, eventually, non-native reed canary grass will be eradicated and chord grass and other native grasses and sedges will be introduced. “We’d like to increase the diversity of the wetlands in hopes of attracting various waterfowl,” Wittler says. Although conservancy wetland restoration is on hold for now, Ripon has started to alter the makeup of the land in other areas.

“Typically, we harvest the seeds, and the DNR takes care of the planting and mowing,” Wittler says. In 1998, an area was burned intentionally with the help of the DNR, in part to boost native prairie plant growth and also to allow Ripon biology students the chance to study the affects of the burn. Alumni and students also have joined Wittler in collecting native prairie seeds at Goose Pond, south of Pardeeville, Wisconsin, and on the conservancy prairie. Altogether, Wittler estimates the groups have gathered more than 20 different types of seeds.

The oak savanna habitat, spanning 15 acres of the conservancy, presents a different challenge, although the goal is the same as that of the prairie. Each fall, biology professors lead teams of volunteers in the removal of European buckthorn, an invasive plant whose main order of business, according to Brooks, is “strangling the oak trees.” In the past few years, Ripon alumni, students and friends have joined the professors in combating the buckthorn’s gnarled branches, first by sawing the plants down and then by applying short-lived herbicide to the stumps. “If you just cut the buckthorn down, it sprouts up again and is worse than before,” explains Wittler.

Through the process of restoring the habitats, entailing physical exertion as well as knowledge, much is learned. Since hands-on learning is Ripon’s trademark, the conservancy provides an ideal location for students to conduct animal and plant studies, or to simply sit, write or reflect.

“The conservancy provides a lot of students with senior research projects, just in keeping track of the animal and plant species year by year,” says Melissa Pischke ’98, who discovered through her research that the conservancy balsam poplar trees were from one clone. “It’s an exciting area for research, especially for chemistry and biology majors.”

In one of Brooks’ ecology labs, focusing on buckthorn removal, students learned reasons behind and the process of prairie restoration, according to Brooks. But it’s the “Biology 500″ senior thesis course that demands the hard-nosed research. Many students select some aspect of the conservancy to be the topic of their research project. Their studies have added valuable insight into the mechanics of Ripon’s delicate ecosystems.

“The conservancy provides an amazing classroom where Ripon students can participate in the restoration of an endangered ecosystem,” says Sara Tiner ’98, who conducted her senior research project on prairie forbs. “Ripon students are at an advantage because of the research and learning opportunities made possible by the prairie — for both the College and community, the prairie offers a chance to relax, bird watch or catch a glimpse of our wildlife.”