Otto named to national group studying undergraduate life sciences education

Monday, September 24, 2012 - 11:54am
Western Today staff

Joann Otto, Western Washington University professor of Biology and chair of the Biology Department, has been named one of the Vision and Change Leadership Fellows by The Partnership for Undergraduate Life Sciences Education program.

The yearlong program will allow the 40 Leadership Fellows to recommend models for improving undergraduate life-sciences education. Otto was selected by an expert panel from more than 250 highly competitive applicants to be a part of this study. The PULSE program is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Institutes of Health.

“Team members were chosen based on their previous accomplishments in undergraduate education in Biology and for the quality of the institution they represent,” Otto said. “My selection as a member of the PULSE Leadership Team reflects highly upon Western and my department.”

The PULSE initiative aims to create systemic change in the way biology is taught in order to engage students and to spark their interest in biology. Otto said she recognizes the enormity of this task and believes that while it may be challenging, there is a need to reform how Biology is taught to undergraduate students.

“They want the team leaders to bring the strategies that appear best for enhancing undergraduate learning back to their departments to try,” Otto said. “Once the year of observations and implementing PULSE related activities has concluded, we will evaluate different strategies that have been tried, identify barriers to incorporating these strategies at different institutions, and then promote the use of these strategies nationwide.”

Otto has taught at Western since 2004 and received her doctorate in Cell and Developmental Biology from the University of California, Irvine in 1976.

For more information, contact Otto at or visit to learn more about PULSE.