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The Art and the Science: Faculty Spotlight on Dr. Danielle Grove

It was the fall of 2010 when Dr. Danielle Grove, professor of biology, arrived in Texas. Fresh from Minnesota, she’d come a long way to work at TLU, leaving behind an adjunct professorship at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University—two schools which are located a mere four miles apart in Collegeville. By the time she’d taken that position she’d already done her Ph.D. work at Tufts University in Boston and her post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Minnesota.

The Lone Star State must’ve presented a bit of a culture shock for the Indiana native, but these days, Grove is a happily transplanted Texan, as well as a beloved professor who has well and truly put down roots here. In fact, the rest of Grove’s family eventually made their way south as well. “My sister got a job in Austin. Then once she got married and had children, my parents decided to retire to Texas,” she says.

Grove was recently named the first-time appointee to the Harold and Charlene Foerster Biology Chair. “I am honored that they recognized me,” she says, adding that she was pleased to have met the Foersters’ daughters, Becky and Cindy, at the 51st Annual Scholarship luncheon. “It was a true joy and a fun time!”

Back in the classroom this semester, Grove has been overseeing sheep brain dissections, among other things. Her neuroscience students have found the process to be quite enlightening. “The students really enjoyed seeing the anatomy up close and personal,” Grove says. Meanwhile, in genetics class, she’s got 23 students studying molecular mechanisms, including how the COVID-19 RT-PCR test works. On top of all of that, Grove co-teaches upper-level students in Molecular and Cellular Biology Research alongside Dr. Stephanie Perez. The class allows students to work on independent, mentored projects—and this semester, they’re pursuing everything from DNA barcoding of immature aquatic damselflies to examining naturally occurring bacteria and fungi on yoga mats.

Another spring highlight: This March, Grove was one of four biology faculty members to accompany students to the 127th Annual Meeting of the Texas Academy of Science in Odessa at UT Permian Basin. “Seven students presented their faculty-mentored research,” she says. “Three of the seven won awards! We all really bonded over some exciting science and some fun meals and experiences.”

That bonding between students and teachers has always been one thing that sets TLU apart from other universities—and taking an interest in her students is certainly one of Grove’s marks of distinction. “I start every class, every semester, by making a point of getting to know some key aspects about every student in my class.” Her students fill out cards with information like their preferred name, major, clubs, activities, jobs, and their goals after graduation. “I connect with them through shared interests and activities. Before class starts or after class ends, I’ll reach out to students and see how things are going for them,” she says. “It might be as simple as asking how they are doing in their other classes or their sport or arts pursuit, but students recognize that I genuinely care and they respond accordingly.”

Teaching at a small university also allows Grove to walk alongside the same students year after year. “Since every Biology major takes the Genetics course that I teach, I have an opportunity to get to know every student in the major. I often see students in year one for Biological Systems, year two for Genetics, year three for the Molecular Biology course, and year four for their Capstone class. I teach all of these.”

She’s also with her students over the summers through TLU’s faculty-led summer research programs. “We do an eight week, 40-hours-a-week, project where the students pursue questions that we ourselves are also interested in pursuing,” she says. “This summer, we hope to have some students pursue the effects of environmental chemicals on mammalian cell culture”—a subject about which Grove herself is very passionate.

So what does a Ph.D. who’s busy teaching classes, advising students, and tackling research do in her spare time? Surprisingly, Grove shifts seamlessly from the sciences to the arts—music, for starters. “I’ve been in choirs and musical groups since fifth grade,” she says. Since her elementary school days, she’s been in several praise bands and has a knack for improvisational harmonies. Stand near her in Chapel sometime and you’ll get a sense of what a gift that is.

In 2011 at a TLU holiday party, Grove stumbled upon a new chance to sing when she, former TLU Provost Dr. John Masterson, and Director of Facilities Kirk Herbold hatched an idea to get together and sing, and their band Tin Roof was born. “Kirk and John play guitars and we all sing. We love doing songs with meaningful lyrics and intricate harmonies,” Grove says. The group performs at house concerts and events, and Groves’ parents and sister—along with a host of faithful “Roofers”—come out to hear them whenever they take to the stage.

And when she’s not singing, Grove turns to other artistic endeavors like photography and coloring. “I have some photos and some inspirational colorings framed in my office.” A long way from the lab, it would seem, but she finds that scientists often have artistic interests. “One year we had our summer research students make welcome posters for incoming students and the artistry our science students showed was just amazing!”

Art and science. Teaching and learning. Leading and caring in equal measure. Harmony. That’s the word that comes to mind when talking with Grove. In weaving all of these notes together so flawlessly, she’s singing one beautiful song.