Mission, Goals, and Objectives

Give To SPU Biology

The Biology Department at Seattle Pacific University is committed to helping students come to an understanding of, as well as experience, the science of life —  everything from science as a way of knowing about the natural world, to practical applications of biological science through research projects, internships, practica, and field studies.

Our Mission Statement

We seek to prepare our students to participate in the scientific investigation of life and — through relating the various subdisciplines of biology to a distinctly Christian worldview — to positively engage our culture and the natural environment.

Our Goals

The Biology Department aims to:

  • cultivate students who understand and respect scientific approaches to the study of life;
  • produce graduates who demonstrate excellence in scientific training;
  • prepare graduates to think critically, to communicate biological principles effectively, and to make informed decisions based on a solid understanding of science and a Christian worldview;
  • empower faculty and students to lead lives of grace-filled wholeness and of personal and professional integrity.

Our Objectives

The Biology Department helps students understand:

Science as a way of knowing about the natural world

This includes knowledge of the presuppositions of science as a philosophical perspective as well as the domain and limitations of science relative to other disciplines (e.g., philosophy, theology, the fine arts).

Science as a process

This includes an understanding of the scientific method as a systematic means of empirical data collection via observation, hypothesis formulation and testing, prediction, controlled experimentation, and statistical analysis.

Science as a human endeavor requiring competence, character, and wisdom

To be properly performed, scientific research requires competence (defined in SPU’s institutional goals as mastery of “discipline-specific knowledge and essential practical skills”) and character (defined in SPU’s institutional goals as “personal and professional integrity in knowing the right thing to do and doing it regardless of personal cost”). Although scientists attempt to carry out their research and to interact with others in an unbiased and objective manner, this ideal is challenging. Where methodological naturalism is essential as an approach to carrying out laboratory experiments and field studies, it is much less successful as an approach to our own daily lives or the lives of our students. It seems to follow, then, that scientists should also be people who can apply wisdom to their tasks and that such wisdom should reflect a personal worldview.

As defined in SPU’s institutional goals, wisdom is “discernment of what is good, true, or right in complex of ambiguous situations that call for decision making informed by faith.” Since we serve as biology faculty at a distinctly Christian university and each of us strives to present science from a Christian worldview, we should also encourage our students to apply wisdom to their studies. Certainly science, and especially biology, has its share of complex and ambiguous issues. Many of these issues (e.g., human cloning, human stem cell research, human population growth, humanity’s contribution to global warming) concern recent scientific discoveries that have impacts far beyond the domain of science. They provide special opportunities for our students to understand that advances in science often come at a price and that debate on the extrinsic value or the ethical ramifications of such advances, while perhaps uncomfortable, is healthy. SPU’s institutional goals of being a grace-filled community (“participation ... in a way that demonstrates caring and respect for self and others, forgiveness and responsible debate”) and in engaging the culture (“involvement of students and faculty beyond SPU in a way that appreciates differences, serves community needs, and respectfully challenges opposing ideas”) can be realized in such discussions and debates. Engaging the culture can also be a valuable paradigm in increasing student involvement as volunteers for environmental or humanitarian concerns.

Unifying themes recognized as pervading all of biological science

Among the unifying themes commonly cited in general biology textbooks are the following:

  1. Life is organized as a hierarchy of structural levels; each of these levels exhibits characteristic emergent properties.
  2. Cells are the structural and functional units of life.
  3. The properties that are both necessary and sufficient to describe the living state are dependent on chemical and physical laws.
  4. The continuity of life is based on heritable information stored in the form of DNA.
  5. Structure and function are correlated at all levels of biological organization.
  6. Organisms are open systems that interact with their environments.
  7. Although the living world is characterized by organismal diversity, there is an underlying unity evident, particularly at lower levels of organization.
  8. Evolutionary theory offers useful scientific explanations for the existence of such diversity as well as for the underlying diversity observed.

Fundamental concepts associated with cellular and molecular biology

A short list of these concepts would include at least the following:

  1. Cellular processes are based on physical and chemical change.
  2. Water is essential to life and serves as the solvent for most of the chemical reactions in cells.
  3. Carbon-based molecules are the basis for the molecular diversity observed in cells.
  4. Cell division processes (e.g., binary fission, mitosis, meiosis) are important in generating new populations of cells and in the development of multicellularity and sexual reproduction.
  5. Energy transfers, such as occur in the processes of cellular respiration and photosynthesis, play a key role in the growth, development, and survival of cells.
  6. DNA replication, RNA transcription, and protein synthesis (translation) are key processes for cell function; the regulation of these processes is important for both cell function and differentiation.

Fundamental concepts associated with heredity and evolution

A short list of these concepts would include at least the following:

  1. Hereditary events control the transmission of structural and functional information from one generation to the next.
  2. DNA is the primary molecule for information storage, transmission, and expression of hereditary traits.
  3. The units of heredity consist of specific DNA sequences residing as genes on chromosomes; variation in genes are known as alleles.
  4. Inheritance patterns of genes (alleles) can be predicted.
  5. Gene expression is a tightly regulated process involving the transcription of a linear DNA sequence into RNA, and the subsequent translation of mRNA into polypeptides.
  6. Mutations can give rise to alterations in hereditary information and thus to genetic variation in populations.
  7. Evolutionary theory predicts that the genetic variation produced by random mutations can be acted upon by the driving forces of natural selection and genetic drift, giving rise to microevolution and, potentially, the longer-term changes associated with macroevolution.
  8. Scientific explanations for the origin, development, and diversity of life on earth reference common ancestry through evolutionary processes over extended periods of time.

Fundamental concepts associated with organismal biology

A short list of these concepts would include at least the following:

  1. Homeostatic regulatory mechanisms are essential for the growth, development, and survival of biological organisms.
  2. There is an enormous diversity to living organisms; there are standardized methods for classifying this diversity.
  3. The mechanisms of reproduction (sexual versus asexual) and of life cycle types are important for understanding how populations of unicellular and multicellular organisms are produced.
  4. Structural, physiological, and behavioral adaptations contribute significantly to the success of organismal groups.
  5. The mechanisms of infection of host organisms by viruses, bacteria, pests, and parasites; such infections have significance relevance to disease states.
  6. Behavioral ecology plays a significant role in the reproduction and evolution of animal societies, including humans.

Fundamental concepts associated with ecology and environmental science

A short list of these concepts would include at least the following:

  1. General ecological principles, including population dynamics, speciation, the importance of hybridization and coevolution, and mechanisms of speciation.
  2. Community structure, energy flow in ecosystems, biogeochemical cycles, and ecological succession.
  3. Biomes and the factors that differentiate one biome from another (e.g., overall productivity, climate).
  4. The global ecological and environmental problems associated with humanity’s impact on the biosphere (past, present, and future) relative to humanity’s role as steward of God’s creation.

Research methodologies applied in the study of biological science

It is important that you gain a solid understanding of the theory and use of key research methodologies that are being (or have been) applied to the life sciences. These methodologies include various means of data collection, statistical analyses, controlled experimentation using specialized equipment, the use of model systems, and many others.

Practical applications of biological science through research projects, internships, practica, and field studies

You need to gain practical experience in the work of professional biologists. This can be done effectively through carrying out original research projects and/or internships under the supervision of professional biologists or biochemists, communicating biological principles through teaching and practicum experiences, and expanding your awareness of environmental issues, ecosystems, and biological diversity through participating in field studies.


Applying to Grad School Career Options

Many of today’s jobs in the life sciences require an advanced degree. Learn more about choosing and applying to graduate school.

Biology Career

What Can You Do With a Degree in Biology?

From analytical chemist to zoologist, many career paths are possible with a degree in Biology.