Saint Joseph's University

BEAGLE Early Arrival Program

OK! It’s 12:30 am and I’m still awake, pondering over what exactly to write about the early arrival BEAGLE (BiologyExperience Aimed at Growth, Learning, and Excellence) program, which is geared towards acclimating freshmen to the rigors of college-level biology courses. As I think about it more and more, I cannot help but recall my very first semester as a freshman, what I WISH  had done. I studied a lot, but that study time was not working, in terms of getting the good grades I was used to.  Are you an incoming biology, environmental science, or chemical biology major, or a parent of one?  Wondering about what college-level science courses will be like?  Whether you are prepared for these courses? The BEAGLE program is here to help!  Run by Biology department faculty, BEAGLE has been developed to help answer these questions. [ Why “BEAGLE”? you might be thinking- the HMS Beagle was the ship that sailed around the world with Charles Darwin onboard, and it was during this trip that the seeds of his theories on natural selection were sown.]

So what is the BEAGLE program?  Think of it as a “Biology Bootcamp” Over about four days before the start of the fall semester, students attend and participate in lectures and lab exercises that include content they will learn in their first-semester biology course, BIO 101.  In addition to lectures, students will take quizzes and an exam on lecture material, followed by small-group review sessions to help students understand, “Why did I get this question wrong?  How should I have studied to prepare for these types of quiz questions?”  All lectures are taught by faculty who are instructors for BIO 101, so students will get a chance to meet faculty in a small-group setting before the semester begins.

The BEAGLE schedule also includes sessions with faculty, learning specialists, and Supplemental Instructors (upperclassmen students who have previously taken BIO 101 and mastered the material) who will give tips on study strategies.  Also on the schedule are group study time (of course), social activities, and free time.

BEAGLE helps students not only gauge what college biology courses are like but also enables them to develop or re-align their study habits and techniques and alleviate fears that they may have about introductory biology before actual classes begin.

In the words of one student,

“…I felt that BEAGLE was a very beneficial program for adjusting to the rigor and the pace of college-level biology. It was a little challenging at first, but having the chance to make mistakes and adjust before it counted was so helpful. I felt confident and prepared during the first semester as a result…”

BEAGLE also serves as an opportunity for incoming freshman to bond, network, collaborate, and socialize with each other and with Biology faculty, to build relationships and strengthen their social support system on Hawk Hill. For instance, in the lab exercises or student-led review sessions students work in small groups of 3-4. These exercises serve as excellent ice-breakers as the participants get to know each other and spend time working and solving problems collaboratively.

One student commented

“…One of the highlights for me was working in small groups during the lab [with other students]”, while another student said that “Meet[ing] other freshman biology majors helped socially – I already had a little community of people I could go to during the first semester if I needed help with school or just wanted to hang out, and we’re still friends now!”.

BEAGLE students are encouraged to consider choosing the Science Residential Learning Community (RLC) as their housing option.  The Science RLC (Science Hall) features suite-style living, with a science major Resident Assistant.  Living with other science majors has benefits, when, for example, the Bio exam is on Wednesday, the Chem exam is on Friday, students in the Science Hall are focused on buckling down and learning the differences between peptide bonds and acid anhydride bonds!

Another benefit to BEAGLE is the opportunity to interact one-on-one with Biology faculty members in social settings such as at the BEAGLE barbecue or closing dinner. Getting to know faculty outside the classroom makes it easier to approach professors for guidance and advice, whether it pertains to academics or non-academic issues. These interactions often also introduce students to the many research areas faculty are pursuing, in which students can participate. In fact, many current and former members of my own research group are alumni of the BEAGLE program, and their interest in my research began to develop during these informal interactions during the BEAGLE program.

Finally, and perhaps the liveliest and most rewarding of activities is student-led panel discussion in which current Biology/Chemical Biology students, in different stages of their collegiate career, discuss their own experiences, including the challenges they faced and how they overcame them. The panel includes a Q and A session where incoming freshman can have many of their concerns and questions addressed by fellow students.

While I can go on touting the usefulness and success of the BEAGLE program, my puppy is staring at me, which can only mean that he needs to be walked…now…at 3:15 in the morning, or I face the consequences of my inaction. So, I’m going to sign off with the simple words of a former BEAGLE student who had this to say about the program,

 “Overall, I think [BEAGLE] was a really valuable experience, [and] I’m glad I did it, and I would definitely recommend it to any freshman bio major – especially if they’re nervous about coming to college.”

Interested in applying for the BEAGLE program? Click here to complete the application –

B.E.A.G.L.E. – Biology Experience Aimed at Growth, Learning, and Excellence

Learn more about the Science RLC here!-

Science Learning Community


– Dr. Bhatt, Associate Professor of Biology