Bonnie Ploger is a Professor in the Biology Department and an Artist in Residence at the Center for Global Environmental Education. Her biological research focuses on the evolution of fatal sibling rivalry in nestling egrets and pelicans and on antipredator behavior and chemical communication in frogs. She has presented her research in scientific talks and publications both nationally and internationally. Her commitment to advancing science teaching led her to co-edit with Ken Yasukawa of Beloit College, the book “Exploring Animal Behavior in Laboratory and Field” (2003, Academic Press) and its companion teacher’s guide. In the Biology Department, Professor Ploger teaches courses in animal behavior, ecology, conservation biology and vertebrate evolution as well as study-abroad courses that combine art and ecology. Professor Ploger received her A.B. in biology from Mount Holyoke College, her M.S. in zoology from the University of Oklahoma, and her Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Florida.
As Artist in Residence at the Center for Global Environmental Education, Professor Ploger develops teaching methods that integrate art-making with ecological concepts and environmental awareness. She shares these methods in interdisciplinary college courses and workshops for K-12 teachers, artists and the public. Her interdisciplinary teaching has included workshops in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and international college courses in China and Jamaica. Professor Ploger’s artistic work includes paintings, photography and art installations, which she frequently exhibits in university art galleries, museums and art centers in the upper Midwest. She has also exhibited internationally in a solo exhibition in Zhuhai, China, where she was the first Artist in Residence at United International College.
Professor Ploger is convinced that the best way to learn biology is to approach science as a creative process of discovery. In her courses, which focus on ecology and evolution, she guides students through the process of creating original research projects that begin from the students’ own research questions. These projects range from small-scale studies conducted over a few weeks, to those that span the entire semester. Professor Ploger also regularly invites students to work with her on collaborative research projects (see Research Opportunities). Scientific discovery includes seeking to understand real-world problems in fields such as conservation biology and human health. Professor Ploger believes that to understand such topics requires exploring how they relate to social issues concerning race, ethnicity, class and gender. Her courses often include information about the intersection of these topics. She also interweaves music, poetry and visual art into some of her courses as a way to enhance creative thinking. In all her courses, Professor Ploger encourages her students to question assumptions, think critically, communicate effectively and develop the ability to learn independently. Labs in her courses typically include direct experiences in nature, which are needed by anyone attempting to work toward solutions to today’s environmental problems, many of which also impact human health.
“I use outdoor exploration in all of my classes, not only for research projects, but also to stimulate curiosity and a sense of wonder. In doing so, I hope students will enrich their lives by gaining a personal sense of connection with the natural world.”
Center for Global Environmental Education