USAO professor discusses importance of interdisciplinary science courses at national conference

A photo of Dean Jones standing across from Dr. Jason Shaw in a circle of students in the USAO Habitat Area discussing various aspects of the flora and fauna there
Dr. Rachel Jones spoke at Ecological Society of America in Portland, Ore.

Dean of the School of Science and Physical Education and Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Science at the University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma Dr. Rachel Jones recently discussed the importance of interdisciplinary science courses at the national Ecological Society of America’s annual conference in Portland, Ore.

After submitting a proposal to the conference, Jones was accepted to deliver a talk on “Building Connections with Pre-Medical Students in Undergraduate Ecology Courses.” The presentation covered her last nine years of work teaching USAO’s Principles of Ecology course, the capstone required of all Environmental Science and Biology majors, including those heading into health and medicine.

When Jones initially began teaching the course, she found that students preparing to go into medicine were less engaged and interested in ecology. In response, she redesigned the course in an interdisciplinary way that now features a greater range of exposure to topics including human/environment impacts, zoological epidemiology, the role of environmental factors in human health and using research on the human microbiome to make connections with ecological theory.

“The benefit of being able to work at USAO is that we believe in showing students the interdisciplinarity of their chosen fields.” said Jones. “It is important for our students to understand how something as unexpected as ecological theory can help them understand how the human body works and how things like disease mimic ecological processes. The more the fields of ecology and medicine grow, I’m confident the line between these fields will converge. Interdisciplinary teaching, the cornerstone of USAO’s education, makes it even more relevant in developing leaders in all areas including the health field.”

Since redesigning the course, students are more engaged in class and show greater interest in the material. Exam scores dramatically increased following the inclusion of human health related content, as well as final grades in the course. In addition, direct student feedback from pre-health students has been incredibly positive. More than one former student who took the MCAT, the required entrance exam for medical schools, following principles of ecology have said they felt more confident answering a series of difficult questions thanks to material covered the course including those in chemistry and physics.

Jones’ course is only one of the most visible examples of USAO’s interdisciplinary educational model. Every student, no matter their major, is required to take the university’s Interdisciplinary Studies curriculum, which provides them with a broad base of knowledge in the traditional arts, humanities and sciences. Across USAO’s different programs, every major course of study is designed to expose students to a range of ideas and methodologies that encourage them to view the subject in a new light.

For more information, contact Jones at or call (405) 574-1252.