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Faculty in Focus: Eric Cole


Professor Eric Cole taught several different courses in the biology department at St. Olaf since arriving on the hill in 1993, making this his 24th year on campus. Before he became a professor, Cole grew up in Iowa and received his bachelor’s degree from Reed College in Oregon. He then went on to get his master’s degree from the University of Washington in Seattle and his Ph.D. in Biology at the University of Iowa, and he completed his postdoctoral research at Cornell University.

Cole’s first job was at St. Olaf, and he has been here ever since. While at St. Olaf, he has taught several different biology related courses, including Intro Biology (Bio 150), Developmental Biology and Invertebrate Zoology. He has also created several interim off-campus programs such as Island Biology in the Bahamas, Island Biology in Tahiti and Equatorial Biology in the Galapagos Islands, as well as a microscopy course at University of Colorado- Boulder.

In the past, Cole taught in the para-college, which was a 25-year-long experimental college within St. Olaf in which students created their own majors. He co-taught a course with Professor David Booth, a professor in the religion department, that combined the study of science and religion. Cole was also the faculty advisor for the Denmark program, which is no longer offered at St. Olaf. Currently, Cole is the program director for the biomolecular science concentration, which integrates the study of biology and chemistry.

Although he has taught several different courses at St. Olaf, Cole could not pick his favorite.

“I would say whichever course I am teaching at the moment becomes my favorite course to teach,” Cole said.

When he is not lecturing in the classroom, Cole conducts research in the lab. He is currently involved in two different projects through the Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program. One of his projects focuses on the developmental biology of Tetrahymena, a unicellular organism, and his other project focuses on the development of sea cucumbers from the Bahamas. He is also studying the life history of pearl oysters in the Bahamas, which is a study that has been going on for the past 15 years. Similar to the classroom, Cole couldn’t pick a favorite research project.

“The projects I am currently working on are now my favorites,” he said.

In lab, Cole loves to watch his students succeed. One of his most memorable lab experiences happened last summer when one of his students successfully finished an experiment dealing with Tetrahymena a mere four hours before catching his flight back home.

“I could see how his success affected him in a positive way,” Cole said. “It was a very dramatic and exciting experience for everyone involved.”

Cole’s favorite part about St. Olaf is his students. He especially appreciates St. Olaf students when he takes them abroad for research.

“When you meet students from other schools, you realize how great our students are,” he said. “They are so much more enjoyable to teach and they seem to appreciate what they are getting out of their learning experience.”

While not at St. Olaf, one of Cole’s favorite activities to do is to go deep sea scuba diving at night. He has always had a passion for biology and a love for bugs. He even had his own section in his high school newspaper dedicated to his latest bug-related discoveries.

Cole did not always know that he wanted to be a professor.

“I have always wanted to study biology, but it never occurred to me to become a teacher,” Cole said. Cole said he simply kept going to school to learn what he could about different areas of biology, and, lucky for his students, ended up a professor at St. Olaf as a result.