The Catholic University of America

Undergraduate Program Fact Sheet


B.A. and B.S. Degrees

The CUA Advantage

Studying in Washington DC

Our Faculty

Our Students

Student Organizations

Hands-on Experience:Research and Volunteer Opportunities

Beyond Graduation

Scholarship and Financial Aid

Applying for Admission

For More Information


B.A. and B.S. Degrees

Studying biology in the nation's capital, you have the opportunity to see "science in action" in this virtual "hot zone" of biological and biotechnological research. As a biology major at Catholic University, you have the chance to witness and even participate in cutting edge research by leaders at the university level and at leading biotechnology firms, hospitals and government institutions.

Students in CUA's Department of Biology have the advantage of studying in a rigorous program in the sciences as well as the liberal arts with many opportunities to gain research experience, interact with faculty individually, and take advantage of personalized advising.

The Department of Biology offers a Bachelor of Science, a Bachelor of Arts, and a Bachelor of Science in medical technology (offered in cooperation with Washington Hospital Center). A major in biochemistry is also offered jointly with the Department of Chemistry. A minor in biology is available, as well as a bachelor's/master program.

Nearly all undergraduates choose to pursue either the Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts in biology. Our students gain an excellent foundation in the basic sciences, allowing for specialization at the graduate level.

The CUA Advantage

Here are just some reasons why CUA's biology program might be right for you:

All our student laboratories are developed and taught by faculty incorporating the basic concepts of modern cell and molecular biology. The fact that our teaching laboratories are taught by faculty members is rare - considering that most university labs across the country are taught by teaching assistants.

  • We have an excellent student/faculty ratio resulting in small class sizes and a commitment to personal attention and academic advising. Our highly accessible faculty fosters a great deal of interaction. Students receive considerable assistance with coursework, academic, employment and career advice.
  • All of our 2002 graduates who applied to pre-med programs were admitted into into medical schools - compared to a national average of about 50 percent.
  • Our students have tremendous opportunities to gain research experience in laboratories of the faculty and in area research institutions, including the National Institutes of Health.

Studying in Washington, D.C.

The Washington, D.C. area abounds with opportunities for scientific research. Government institutions include the National Institutes of Health, Walter Reed Army Institute for Research, Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency, just to name a few.

Washington also is a "hotbed" for biotechnology research. Numerous biotechnology companies, including Celera, The JC Venter Institute, and Human Genome Sciences, are located in the area and provide a variety of employment opportunities. In addition to internships, part-time jobs are available to students during the academic year and full-time positions are available during the summer.

Our Faculty

There are ten full-time faculty members in the Biology Department. The faculty's research areas cover the major sub-fields of microbial, cell and molecular biology. The specific research areas include bacterial pathogenesis, protein secretion, transcription factors, development in C. elegans, multiple drug resistance, membrane dynamics and intracellular trafficking, virus structure and assembly, mechanisms of cancer, novel approaches to vaccine development, biological effects of electromagnetic radiation and ecology and environmental biology

Faculty research is supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense and National Science Foundation. A number of our faculty also review grants for major sponsoring agencies such as National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation and manuscripts for internationally reputed journals such as Journal of Molecular Biology, EMBO Journal, Biochemistry, Genetics and Virology.

Members of the faculty and the research they currently are involved in include:

  • John S. Choy (Ph.D., University of Chicago)  
    An Assistant Professor, Dr. Choy completed post-doctoral  work at Stanford University and at the National Institutes of Health. Our laboratory research is focused on elucidating molecular mechanisms that ensure accurate chromosome segregation and how altered nutrient signaling can cause chromosome segregation errors that drive diseases such as cancer. We use genome scale methods as well as traditional genetic and molecular approaches for our studies. We are also developing microfluidic platforms to perform single cell resolution experiments to understand how cell division and chromosome segregation are influenced during the aging process. All of our studies are done using the budding yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, as the model system. Dr. Choy’s published work includes: Choy et al. (2013) Genome-wide haploinsufficiency screen reveals a novel role for gamma-TuSC in spindle organization and genome stability. Mol Biol Cell 24:2753-2763.
  • Ann Corsi (Ph.D., University of California at Berkeley)
    Professor Corsi is an associate professor who completed her post-doctoral work at the National Institutes of Health. Her research is aimed at addressing the broad developmental question "what determines a cell's fate"? Professor Corsi's published work includes: Zhao, J., P. Wang, and A.K. Corsi. (2007) The C. elegans Twist target gene, arg-1, is regulated by distinct E box promoter elements. Mech Dev. 124:377-89.
  • John Golin (Ph.D., University of Chicago)
    Professor Golin's research is centered on two basic problems in molecular genetics: the molecular mechanism of general recombination in eukaryotes and the phenomenon of multiple drug resistance. Both are studied using the yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, as the model organism. His published work includes: Sauna, Z., Bohn, S., Rutledge, R. M., Dougherty, M. P., Cronin, S., May, L., Xia, D., Ambudkar, S. V., and Golin, J. (2008) Mutations define cross talk between the N-terminal nucleotide-binding domain and transmembrane helix-2 of the yeast multidrug transporter Pdr5: Possible conservation of a signaling interface coupling ATP hydrolysis to drug transport. Journal Biol. Chem. 283: 35010-35022.
  • James J. Greene (Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University)
    With the goal of identifying the genetic elements involved in controlling cell proliferation, Professor Greene's laboratory studies the regulatory events that arrest proliferation of dividing cells and restore them to the quiescent state. Dr. Greene's published work includes: Greene, J.J. (2004) Host cell compatibility in protein expression. Methods Mol Biol. 267:3-14.
  • Barbara J. Howard (D.A., The Catholic University of America)
    An associate professor, her laboratory research focuses on the study of macroinvertebrate populations of streams and their associations with a large number of chemical parameters such as the presence of cations and anions, and how these biological and chemical factors interact in stream ecosystems are being explored.
  • J. Michael Mullins (Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin)
    Research in Dr. Mullins laboratory has focused on studies of cell division and on the interrelationships of cytoskeletal structures in cultured mammalian cells. Recent work on cell division has involved efforts to identify components of the mitotic spindle, a structure whose detailed chemistry is still undefined. Newly initiated research, involving participation in an interdisciplinary group, has centered on the use of mammalian cell cultures to assess possible deleterious effects of microwave irradiation. His published work includes:

    Mullins, J.M. (2010)Overview of conventional fluorescence photomoicrography. Methods Mol. Biol. 588:181-6.      

  • Franklin Portugal (Ph.D., University of Illinois)

    Dr. Portugal’s laboratory has two main areas of interest. The first is the investigation of factors, distinct from quorum sensors, that are secreted by certain pathogenic bacteria and can self-inhibit the pathogen’s own growth. The second is the application of a novel and highly sensitive biosensor, co-invented and patented by Dr. Portugal, that uses molecular interactions to identify pathogens and/or biological molecules of interest. His published work includes: Yang, L., Portugal, F. and Bentley, W.C. (2006) Conditioned medium from Listeria innocua stimulates emergence from a resting state:Not a response to quorum sensing autoinducer AI-2. Biotechnol. Prog. 22:387-393.

  • Venigalla B. Rao (Ph.D., Indian Institute of Science)
    Chairman of the Biology Department, Professor Rao completed his post-doctoral work at the University of Maryland Medical School. His laboratory research includes use of the bacteriophage T4 as a model system to elucidate the mechanism of DNA packaging in double stranded DNA containing icosahedral viruses. Strategies are also being developed to construct multicomponent vaccines against HIV and anthrax using phage T4 display. Professor Rao's published work includes: Al-Zahrani, A.S., Kondabagil, K., Gao, S., Kelly, N., Ghosh-Kumar, M., Rao, V.B. (2009) The small terminase, gp16, of bacteriophage T4 is a regulator of the DNA packaging motor. J. Biol. Chem. 284: 24490-500.
  • Pamela L. Tuma (Ph.D., Northwestern University)
    An associate professor, Professor Tuma did her post-doctoral work at Johns Hopkins University Medical School in Baltimore. She conducts research that investigates (1) membrane dynamics in polarized epithelial cells and (2) alterations in liver structure and function associated with alcoholic liver disease. Professor Tuma's published works include: Shepard, B.D, Tuma, D.J., and P.L. Tuma. (2009) Alcohol consumption leads to global protein hyperacetylation. Alcoholism: Clin Exp Res Nov 24. [Epub ahead of print]

Our Students

The Department of Biology currently has 65 students majoring in biology and five students completing courses for a minor. The introductory course in biology, which is taken by biology concentrators as well as other students, averages 40 to 50 students in the lecture with a maximum of 22 students in laboratory sections. Other courses in the department range in size from six for a senior seminar course to another course with a typical enrollment of 30.

Students have access to scientific equipment of the highest quality in the research and classroom laboratories, and an undergraduate computer room is also available to biology majors. Many students have performed significant research and became lead authors or co-authors in research publications in professional journals.

Student Organizations

The Biology Club is open to biology majors as well as those students interested in science-related activities, such as the health professions. The club offers presentations by professionals and faculty, sponsors visits from recent alumni, and hosts social gatherings for faculty and students.

Biology students also participate in campus volunteer efforts including feeding the homeless, Habitat for Humanity and tutoring programs, as well as other student organizations.

Hands-On Experience: Research and Volunteer Opportunities

Students have the opportunity to gain research experience in the laboratories of our own faculty through the Freshmen Research Scholars Program, the work-study program, and course work.

A number of our students also gain excellent research experience through student job programs at local government institutions such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Walter Reed Army Institute for Research.

Biology majors also have easy access to area hospitals for those who wish to gain volunteer experience.

Beyond Graduation

Approximately 80 percent of our graduates continue on to obtain graduate or professional degrees. Areas of graduate study include forensic science, genetics, immunology, physiology, neuropsychology and other sub-fields of biology. Most students enter those programs either immediately after graduation or within one year. Some seek employment in biomedical research positions upon graduation before pursuing their graduate degrees.

In the health professions most seek admission to medical school while a small percentage pursue dentistry or veterinary medicine. In the allied health fields, our students have obtained degrees in physical therapy, optometry, nursing, athletic training and nutrition. Several alumni from recent years have attended law school.

Examples of institutions our graduates have attended include the University of Chicago, Vanderbilt, University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown and Loyola (Chicago).

Many of alumni are accomplished professionals and researchers, including:

  • Carol Nacy (BS (1970); MS (1972); Ph. D. (1976)) is founder, president and CEO of a biotechnology company devoted to researching new treatments for tuberculosis. She is a past national president of the American Society for Microbiology.
  • Alex Vaclavic ('03) is spending a year teaching English in Japan and will return to begin medical school at Creighton University.
  • William Zaccardi ('03) is in the Genetics graduate program at the University of Chicago.
  • Janet Muckenthaler ('98) was awarded a Truman Scholarship in her senior year. She deferred graduate studies and spent time volunteering as a teacher and administrator at a school in Kenya.
  • Brian Till ('98) attended the University of Chicago Medical School and is currently doing his postgraduate training as a resident at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Katie Goetzinger ('02) was awarded a research fellowship from the American Society for Microbiology and won a Barry Goldwater Scholarship while an undergraduate biology student at CUA. She is now in her second year of medical school at the University of Maryland.
  • Carolyn Wickert ('96) is a validation supervisor for Bristol-Myers Squibb.
  • John Mack ('93) is the director of a group of surgical physician assistants in Poughkeepsie. NY.
  • Nancy Roscioli Kavanaugh ('85) works as a consultant for pharmaceutical applications.
  • Elizabeth Renken ('02) is now pursuing graduate studies in biological science at the University of Arizona.
  • 0aynor Jablonski ('99) attended law school at CUA.
  • Angel Sotouyo ('94) is working as an athletic trainer for a professional soccer team.
  • Stephanie Olszowska ('91) earned a Ph.D. as a psychologist.
  • Andrew Newman ('88) is now working as a science teacher at St. John's College High School in Washington, DC.
  • Louise Mallet ('85) works as a physical therapist.
  • Kevin Flanigan is now a priest and surgeon volunteering in Kenya.

Scholarships and Financial Aid

Pursuing an undergraduate degree involves a commitment not only of time, but also of financial resources. Catholic University offers several funding options such as student loans and work-study positions.

A CUA financial aid application and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) must be submitted in order to request need-based aid. A separate application for merit-based aid is not required. Consideration for need-based aid is open to citizens and permanent residents of the United States.

Faculty often hire undergraduates to assist with research. In recent years, several outstanding students have received awards from the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and the American Society for Microbiology.

Applying for Admission

Prospective students may apply for admission online at

Applications materials may also be requested by contacting CUA's Office of University Admissions at 800-673-2772 or 202-319-5305.

For More Information

For more information about the various majors offered through CUA's Department of Biology or would to speak with a faculty member or student in the program, please contact:

Ms. Marion B. Ficke
Assistant to the Chairman
Pre-Medical Coordinator
Department of Biology

The Catholic University of America
620 Michigan Ave., N.E.
Washington, DC 20064

Phone: 202-319-5870