Webster Voices - Nicole Miller-Struttmann | Webster University

'Contributing to that Uniquely Human Experience'

Nicole Miller-Struttmann headshot

Nicole Miller-Struttmann, PhD

Laurance L. Browning, Jr. Assistant Professor
Biological Sciences
College of Arts & Sciences

“Everyone here strives to help students succeed.”

Webster University’s first Browning endowed professor, Nicole Miller-Struttmann is best known for her bee expertise, educating students on their significance to the broader ecosystem and the environmental changes altering their populations. Such expertise helps not only her students, but also the broader community: her frequent community outreach and news media interviews deepen the public understanding of why bees are so important.

How would you describe your teaching style?

Interactive, applied, and skills-centered. I try to build activities that empower my students to do “real work” for authentic audiences. For instance, in my Evolution lab in spring 2018, my students conducted observational research studies during their trip to the Galapagos Islands. We analyzed their data and created a magazine “Scientific Gorlok using InDesign to share with the Webster community.

In lecture courses, I engage the students in a lot of activities and applied problems that encourage creative and critical thinking. Content is important, but I want students to leave my classes with skills that help them integrate that content to create deeper understanding, interpret data and variation, and empowered to make a difference in their world.

What motivates you?

I love learning new things and challenging myself, so I tend to be drawn to opportunities that broaden my horizons. That is true for any part of my life: teaching, research, and personally. That is where the fun is for me – in the discovery – so I try to build that in wherever I can.

What makes teaching at Webster distinctive?

The biggest thing that sets Webster apart is student-centered learning. Everyone here strives to help students succeed and supports practices that improve the student learning. As faculty, we have diverse jobs that include scholarship and service, but it all comes back to creating a supportive, rigorous, engaging student experience.

What are you most curious about?

That is a tough question for a scientist – we are constantly asking “I wonder why…? I wonder if…?” For me, those questions tend to center around biodiversity and behavior, but it certainly isn’t limited to that.

Nicole Miller-Struttmann delivering presentation

What is the focus of your scholarship?

My training is in the ecology and evolution of plant-pollinator interactions, but most recently my focus has been on native bees. They are fascinating creatures and are incredibly important to ecosystem functioning – both natural and human-dominated systems. I have a new project in collaboration with Dr. Victoria Brown-Kennerly looking at bumble bee behavior that I am particularly excited about right now.

How do you translate your passion in life to the classroom?

I am a pretty gregarious person, and I really enjoy working with students in the classroom and in the field. I get energized by their enthusiasm and by sharing what I think is an endlessly fascinating subject: biology. I try to incorporate as many of those “wow that is cool!” moments that I have when learning new things into class discussions.

Science is all about learning – it is systematic and can be tedious. However at its heart, it is about expanding our understanding of the world. Contributing to that uniquely human experience is a joy.

Nicole Miller-Struttmann in the field

What is your favorite travel destination?

(Almost) anywhere! I have a big travel bug. In fact, when my partner and I got married, I unofficially added it to our contract. Last year, I got to add two new continents to my travel list: Asia and South America!

Travel has always been a large part of my life. I love experiencing the diversity that the world has to offer: new cultures, ecosystems, experiences, etc. There is nothing more “mind-expanding” than immersing yourself in a complete new (and sometimes uncomfortable) environment.

What's always in your suitcase?

As little as possible. I like to travel with limited baggage, so I can be mobile.

One key item I never leave without is a light-weight scarf. In addition to wearing it for its intended purpose, it can be used it as blanket, sun protection (the sun and I have a tenuous relationship), pillow, strap for a bag, etc.


Nicole Miller-Struttmann in the field talking to students