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Educated to Lead. Inspired to Achieve.
Irene Unger

Irene Unger

Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Science
 CSC 222
 +1 (573) 592-5273
Department(s):
  • Biology and Environmental Science

Biography:

I am a Missouri native and have spent my educational and professional years traveling throughout the state. I was born and raised in the city of St. Louis, but fell in love with small towns and rural communities when I moved to Kirksville to attend Truman State University and earn a BS in Biology.

I returned home for my Master’s degree, earning a MS in Biology from St. Louis University. I then moved to West Plains, in the heart of the Missouri Ozarks, where I taught introductory biology courses for 9 years at Missouri State University-West Plains. In 2004, I began my doctoral studies at the University of Missouri and earned my I earned a Ph.D. in Forestry in 2008.

Following graduation, I joined the faculty at Westminster. I love the small campus and the close-knit community; it feels like home. Best of all I love working with the students; they amaze me on a daily basis with their talents, dedication, and achievements. Students were the reason I came to Westminster, they inspire me to be the very best instructor and scientist I can be, and they give me hope for the future.

I am a broadly trained terrestrial ecologist and as such teach a wide variety of courses for the Biology and Environmental Science/Studies programs. Offerings range from introductory courses in general Biology or Environmental Science; to specialized courses in Plant Functional Morphology, Ecology and Field Biology, Wetlands, Forest Resources and Management, and Conservation Biology; to seminar courses focused on sustainability issues.

As an ecologist, my research interests are primarily in the fields of disturbance ecology and community structuring. I have investigated the effects of clear cut logging on the herbaceous community as well as the effects of flooding on the physical, chemical and biotic properties of riparian soils. More recently, I examined the effects of veterinary antibiotics on soil microbial community characteristics and participated in investigations to quantify boulders as refugia for herbaceous plants and tree seedlings/saplings from deer browsing. Current research focuses on the effects of invasive plant species on soil characteristics; I hope to gain insights into plant-soil-plant interactions. I have also supervised a number of student driven research projects and welcome students to participate in my research efforts.

As an environmentalist, I am interested in human-environment interactions. We interact with the environment every day, from basic concerns such as what to wear or what to eat; to complex issues such as how to generate energy or adapt to a changing climate. The natural world provides the resources for the food we eat, the goods we create and the shelters we live in. It also is a place we go for renewal. In the courses I teach, we look at these human-environment interactions and discuss issues such as global climate change, conservation of biodiversity, and emerging new food systems.

When I’m not at Westminster, I try to spend as much time outdoors as possible – sometimes simply enjoying a good book or the company of friends on my backyard deck, other times camping and hiking in the Ozarks, taking walks around the neighborhood or cycling on the MKT/KATY trail. I enjoy traveling, domestically as well as abroad, exploring new cultures, environments and cuisines. And when the weather prohibits outdoor adventures, I may be found watching movies, exploring antique malls looking for hidden treasures, or making quilts for special occasions for friends and family.

Publications and Presentations
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