Blog Academics, Career & Leadership Development, Faculty

Biotech in the Twin Cities: Local Leaders Developing the Next Generation

Friday, November 3, 2023


It’s no surprise that Minnesota has been designated a Regional Tech Hub from the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the University of Northwestern – St. Paul is proud to be part of this story by coming alongside the next generation of students learning about and leading change for the biotech industry in the Twin Cities. The state received this designation because of its numerous bio-tech companies like Medtronic, United Healthcare, EcoLab, Merck, Mayo Clinic, and Boston Scientific. Northwestern has board members, faculty, staff, and alums who have worked at these respected organizations, as well as students engaged in successful internships and research projects at many of these companies. 

Dr. Kirk Moss, Dean of the College of Behavioral & Natural Sciences, says, “University of Northwestern – St. Paul is well positioned for Minnesota’s MedTech Hub designation with our ABET-accredited Engineering program, highly-rated Nursing program, a Biology/Biochemistry program with faculty who routinely engage students in research projects, a thriving Kinesiology major, and multiple degree options in Computer Science. Our STEM majors complete industry-specific internships that often lead to job offers, while other students earn admission to competitive graduate schools.”

Northwestern alum, Zack Swore has worked as an IT Developer at Medtronic for over seven years. When it was time for Swore’s internship, a professor connected him with a colleague at Medtronic. Swore interned through the summer and part-time during the fall semester. When he graduated, he was offered a full-time position at Medtronic. Swore says, “Looking back, through the interview process and my transition into Medtronic, I felt very comfortable and prepared because of the social and technical skills I had learned at Northwestern.”

In addition to its rigorous academics, Northwestern offers off-campus research internships that allow students to participate in semester-long opportunities with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Zoo, the University of Minnesota, 3M Corporation, and numerous biomedical research companies in the Twin Cities area. 

Biology students also have the opportunity to present at local conferences such as the Winchell Undergraduate Research Symposium though the Minnesota Academy of Science, and the Impact Research Competition at the Mayo Clinic. Northwestern students are encouraged to join the prestigious Tri-Beta National Biology Honors Society, and the Au Sable Institute academic program.

Here are a few esteemed faculty members leading the Department of Biology & Biochemistry.

Dr. Jason Draper, Chair of the Department of Biology & Biochemistry; Assistant Professor of Chemistry

Dr. Draper has served Northwestern as an adjunct faculty member since 2014. His areas of expertise include organic synthesis, medicinal chemistry (emphasis on antibacterial and antifungal agents), NMR spectroscopy, natural products chemistry including isolation and structure determination, insect pheromones, and flavor and fragrance chemistry. In addition to the usual technical particulars, students in his courses can expect to receive training in identifying what constitutes reliable evidence, practice managing ambiguity in decision-making processes, and insight into the arbitrary boundary distinguishing natural from unnatural on the molecular scale. 

Dr. Dan Crane, Special Assistant to the Provost; Chair of Interdisciplinary Studies; Professor of Chemistry

Dr. Crane has been a faculty member at Northwestern since 2011. He has previously chaired departments of mathematics, engineering, and science. Prior to his current position as Chair of the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, he acted as Dean of Behavioral & Natural Sciences. 

Dr. Crane has taught General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physical Chemistry, and Introduction to Scientific Thought. His research interests revolve around misunderstood or poorly-explained concepts in lower-level chemistry textbooks like the nature of buffer solutions and the formulation of allowed molecular orbitals. 

Dr. Joel Light, Associate Professor of Biology

Dr. Light is passionate about revealing the complexity of the natural world to his students in order to inspire a commitment to the life-long pursuit of caring for, and protecting, the environment. In 2022 Dr. Light joined over 20,000 people from 195 countries as an Official UN Climate Change Observer in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, at the COP 27 Climate Summit. He possesses a strong interdisciplinary background both in the degrees he holds and the training he has received and is skilled in using technology to improve and enhance the learning environment. 

Dr. Light’s courses include Concepts of Biology, Environmental Science, Field Biology, Our Changing Climate, and Senior Seminar. His areas of specialty include environmental science, climate change, and aquatic biology. He is currently working with Trees for Education Program, a flagship initiative of Ustawi Afrika in Nairobi, Kenya – a nonprofit that sustainably empowers women in rural Africa.

Dr. Bruce Simat, Associate Professor of Biology

Dr. Simat was commissioned by Northwestern in 1994 to initiate and develop a Biology degree program. After establishing 14 separate biology courses, and teaching each one at some point in his career, he moved on to introducing a feasibility study for Northwestern’s nursing program in 2011. Dr. Simat was significantly responsible for the work that went into the program before its accreditation in 2015 and continued his involvement in the program by being on the Advisory Board for ten years, the Student Admission and Progression Committee, and the Director Search Committee (twice). 

Dr. Simat established and grew Northwestern’s premedical program, leading to one of the highest level of medical school acceptance in the Twin Cities, initiated TriBeta Biological Honor Society, and began the student organization Health Care Professionals of Tomorrow. He has worked on 16 research projects with 60 students. His current investigations include (a) Mercury Distribution in Neonatal Rat Pups After Treating Their Mothers with Mercury and (b) Effects of Prenatal Exposure to Mercury on Neurological Development, Memory, and Motor Skills.

Dr. Dustin Van Hofwegen, Assistant Professor of Biology & Biochemistry

Dr. Van Hofwegen came to Northwestern in 2023 from a similar position at Azusa Pacific University. Prior to that appointment, he held a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health specializing in microbial genetics and host/pathogen responses. Current research in his laboratory focuses on understanding molecular mechanisms of gene regulation to provide insight into how life is organized, how organisms can respond to their environment, and how they can adapt. 

Dr. Van Hofwegan is an infectious disease expert with two years post-doctoral experience and three years of laboratory management experience. He is a broadly-trained scientist skilled in bacterial genomics, bioinformatics, data analysis, and molecular biology. He has demonstrated experience with gene expression and genomic sequence analysis, and proficiency in Prism, R, IGV, Geneious, and advanced Excel. 

Dr. Lisanne Winslow, Professor of Biology

Dr. Winslow is a Fulbright Scholar holding two doctorates: a PhD in Cell Biology and a PhD in Systematic Theology. Dr. Winslow was keynote Speaker at the Global Congress on Rationality and Spirituality in Leuven, Belgium in August 2020. 

In addition to her numerous scientific articles on marine invertebrate immunology, Dr. Winslow has two books on Science and Theology, and multiple collections of poetry. She brings over 20 years of experience in scientific writing and editing journal articles, manuals, protocols, grants, lectures, and presentations. Dr. Winslow has developed and taught Cell and Molecular Biology, Human Anatomy, Physiology, Immunology, Developmental Biology, and Biochemistry. 

For over two decades she has demonstrated proficiency in molecular immunology, cell biology techniques, protein purification, electrophoresis, ELISA, HPLC, chromatography, microscopy, microinjection, monoclonal and polyclonal antibody production and purification, Northern, Southern, Western blot, image processing, differential centrifugation, in situ hybridization, fluorescence, cell culture, biomedical laboratory skills and protocols, Safety Data Sheets, and hazardous waste protocols.