Dr. Fritz Hertel joins the Biology faculty this fall as an Assistant Professor. He will teach courses on vertebrate biology and morphology, including specialized courses on birds and mammals. He also has an interest in vertebrate anatomy and eventually expects to teach comparative anatomy.
Dr. Hertel received his bachelorís degree from SUNY, Oswego in liberal arts, and then went on for a Masterís degree in Paleontology from the University of Rochester. Moving to the west, he completed a Ph.D. in biology at UCLA.
In his research, Dr. Hertel seeks to understand the relationship between vertebrate structure and the manner in which species sort themselves out in the natural world. In his doctoral studies he sought to discover how extinct birds of prey (vultures, falcons, eagles, owls and the like) foraged by comparing the structure of their beaks with those of their present-day relatives. Dr. Hertel is now extending his studies to the legs and wings. By comparing the muscular and skeletal differences among fossil and living birds of prey he hopes to better understand the differences in flight capabilities and killing behavior among both living and extinct species.
But Dr. Hertelís interests go beyond birds of prey. He is also exploring how the form of the wings is related to the foraging strategies used by pelagic seabirds. To do this, he plans to visit seabird colonies throughout the tropical Pacific Ocean.
Dr. Hertel is also interested in addressing macroevolutionary questions and has begun a study of the functional similarities among communities of vertebrates and within guilds (groups that feed in a similar manner). For example, a comparison of the feeding adaptations present among modern vultures from regions where many different species occur together with those adaptations seen among fossil vultures from the Rancho La Brea tar pits indicates that vultures in both groups have a similar array of functional types. This suggests that competition is (and was) important in directing the evolution of these structures in this guild of scavengers.
Dr. Hertel is eager to develop a research program in vertebrate evolution and functional ecology. He invites students who might be interested in working on the above or similar projects to stop by for a chat. He can be found in Science 1318.
Dr. Virginia Oberholzer-Vandergon joins the Department this fall as an Assistant Professor. Because of her experience teaching pre-college students, her initial assignment is to work with the Liberal Studies program to develop a strong science experience for prospective teachers. This semester she teaches non-majors biology (Biology 100) and is involved in K-12 science outreach. In the future she expects to teach genetics and related courses.
After graduating with a BA in Biology and Mathematics from St. Maryís College in Moraga, California, Dr. Vandergon went on to teach high school. While teaching, she attended school at night and ultimately earned a California State Teaching Credential in life science and mathematics.
After teaching for five years, Dr. Vandergon entered graduate school, first at UC, Davis, where she earned her MS, then at UC, Riverside, where in 1998 she completed her Ph.D. In her Masterís thesis work, conducted under the guidance of Dr. Anita Oberbauer, she used cytogenetic techniques to map the insertion sites of the ovine growth hormone transgenes in two lines of transgenic mice. At UC, Riverside, working with Dr. Michael Clegg, Dr. Vandergon addressed questions of gene family evolution in the grasses and in particular looked at gene recruitment in two gene families, Chalcone Synthase, a structural gene family, and myb, a family of regulatory genes. Both gene families are involved in the biochemical pathway leading to the production of anthocyanin, a pigment. Her work was published last spring.
From her studies, Dr. Vandergon concluded that genes in the two families are recruited by different mechanisms. Consequently, she intends to continue to look at the molecular evolution of both gene families in search of further evidence of her initial conclusions. Her initial efforts will focus on gene recruitment in two large plant groups, the Asteraceae (sunflower family) and the Poaceae (grasses), but other related groups will also be screened. "Although Iím just beginning to get my lab up and running, Iíd love to talk with any students who might be interested in joining me in my research efforts," says Dr. Vandergon.
While completing her doctorate, Dr. Vandergon spent a year as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, where she taught microbiology, non-majors biology and natural science. It was at Pepperdine that she met her husband, Dr. Tom Vandergon, also a biologist. They were married this past summer.
For the past year Dr. Vandergon held a tenure-track position at Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. During her short stay at that institution she taught genetics, molecular biology and non-majors biology. Dr. Vandergon also immersed herself in the culture of Alverno, learning about their innovative approach to teaching, using outcomes and assessment.
Dr. Vandergonís initial challenge at Cal State Northridge includes finding ways to design, enhance and implement science literacy in the K-12 curriculum and community. She plans to do that by designing and teaching a biology course with content useful to Liberal Studies students. She also will be planning programs in outreach for teachers who are already teaching in the classroom. Dr. Vandergon says she looks forward to integrating all her background and skills as she seeks to help teachers find ways to make science exciting and challenging for their students.