Alison Wallace ’89

wallaceProfessor of Biosciences

Minnesota State University-Moorhead

Alison Wallace grew up in the Northfield area and enrolled at St. Olaf College intending to major in music while taking a few biology classes “for fun.” After working as a research assistant on a bird behavior project in Wyoming with Dr. Henry Kermott, she decided her future was in biology and started making plans for graduate school, while remaining very active in the music department as a violinist in the St. Olaf Orchestra for all four years. Her experience as a genetics teaching assistant for Dr. Alice Burton instilled in Alison the confidence and desire to teach, and an appreciation for the complexities of effective instruction.

After obtaining a B.A. in Biology with distinction from St. Olaf in 1989, Alison went on to graduate school at Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York in the Department of Ecology and Evolution. There she obtained funding for her research with a NASA “Mission to Planet Earth” Global Change Fellowship. Her research on the effects of elevated carbon dioxide on nitrogen-fixing plants was carried out at the Duke University Phytotron, and the Bodega Marine Laboratory in northern California. She also was fortunate to work with her advisor on the creation and evaluation of new curriculum for an honors section of introductory biology labs, a project that fueled her interest in education. Two children, a year of high school teaching at San Domenico School in California, and 8 years later, Alison received her Ph. D in Ecology and Evolution in 1997. From there she moved to Minnesota to teach another year at the high school level as she was deciding what level of teaching she most enjoyed. Then she moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota as an Education Specialist for a U.S. Technology Innovation Challenge Grant charged with developing online curriculum for K-12 students and teachers (her project was called “Ranger Rosie”!). Upon completion of this project in 2000, she was hired by the Biosciences Department at Minnesota State University Moorhead, where she is currently teaching and was just awarded the status of Full Professor.

At MSUM, Alison combines her love of ecology and science education by teaching both biology courses for majors and non-majors, and science methods courses for teaching majors, Her research projects vary from small undergraduate projects on local prairie plants to education research projects with organizations such as the Minnesota Teacher Research Network on the practices of beginning math and science teachers. Recently, she was awarded a National Science Foundation grant to research the effectiveness of using guided writing to increase ecological literacy in undergraduates and is currently collecting data for this large research project in collaboration with Dr. Meena Balgopal of Colorado State University. Alison also serves as the higher education representative on the board of the Minnesota Science Teacher Association.

Throughout all the moves, research, and teaching activities, Alison maintains an active involvement in music.  She has played with numerous orchestras including the Oakland Lyric Opera as well as other Bay Area orchestras, and as a guest violinist with the Key West Choral and Symphony.  Currently, Alison plays her violin in the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony, the Fargo-Moorhead Opera, and is a founding member of the Viotti String Quartet, a group includes two other St. Olaf alumni and specializes in classical, tango, and rock music.