Thornton Biology Research Program

Students majoring in Biology are encouraged to participate in hands-on experiences in biological research. Research experiences improve comprehension of biological principles, build a better understanding of science as a process and method of inquiry, and hone practical research skills. At Western Colorado University, undergraduate research is valued and supported by the Thornton Biology Research Fund, an endowment to the University from Jessie and Dan Thornton. 

It is possible for students to participate in all aspects of research, including experimental design, field or laboratory work, data analysis, and in many cases, presentation of research findings at scientific meetings or preparation of a publication. In addition to learning how to conduct science, students engaged in undergraduate research are more likely to receive scholarships and awards, obtain jobs and internships, be accepted into prestigious Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) opportunities funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and qualify for and be accepted into graduate school. 

To get involved, students should discuss research ideas with a Biology faculty member. Please direct questions regarding the Thornton Program to Dr. Pat Magee

Research opportunities are available in diverse fields of biology, from molecular genetics to ecology, reflecting the varied interests of the faculty. Often, students work with a particular faculty member on research focusing on the faculty member's interests and ongoing research.

Thornton Biology Research Program Components

Thornton Endowed Chair of Biology and Thornton Reassigned Time

Dr. Patrick Magee is director of the Thornton Biology Research Program and the Thornton Endowed Chair of Biology. Magee received his master of science (1989) and Ph.D. (1996) degrees in Wildlife Ecology from the University of Missouri and his bachelor of science. degree in Wildlife Biology from Colorado State University in 1986. His research interests include the ecology of sagebrush ecosystems, avian responses to management and restoration of sagebrush, Gunnison sage grouse (Centrocercus minimus) conservation and ecology, and mammals of the Southern Rockies, with an emphasis currently on the population ecology of the red fox (Vulpes vulpes). Magee teaches approximately 20 credits annually and this load, paid for by the Thornton Fund, allows other biology faculty to use reassigned time to work with students on research projects. Magee teaches wildlife ecology and conservation, ornithology, mammalogy, Colorado Ecoregions and general ecology. He was on sabbatical leave for the 2013-2014 academic year. 

Thornton Biology Laboratory Coordinator

Amy Honan was hired in 2010 as the new Biology Laboratory Coordinator. This position is funded in part by the Thornton Fund and provides personnel for major logistical efforts associated with the freshman biology labs. The coordinator supervises teaching assistants, schedules vans, preps labs, facilitates the development of lab manuals, works closely with faculty on lab development and teaches labs. The coordinator also assists with other classes, and generally coordinates the organization and care of supplies and equipment within the department. Honan received her master of science degree in Mycology from San Francisco State University in 2006 and earned a Western Chemistry degree in 2002. 

Thornton Research Grants Program

Since 1993, the Thornton Research Grants program has provided $1.8 million in funding for 160 research projects. In student-directed projects, students write research proposals on topics of their interest in collaboration with biology faculty members who have expertise in the topic. The student may request a Thornton Research Award of up to $3,000. In addition, they may request funds from the Thornton Research Grants program for equipment, supplies and travel for research projects. Other students may be involved with research projects that are faculty directed. In these projects, faculty members typically write the research proposals and students are eligible for a Thornton Research Assistantship. These projects are usually tied to the primary research program of the faculty member and provide students with an opportunity to learn about science and the specific topic of the study. 

Requests for research-project funding are accepted by the Thornton Biology Research Committee annually on Oct. 1, Dec. 1, and March 1. Proposals are due at 4 p.m. the day of the deadline. A proposal includes the Thornton Research Grants Program Funding Request (see below) and a full grant proposal written in scientific style, including a title, author byline, author affiliations, abstract, introduction, methods (including study area if appropriate), expected results, literature cited, a budget (including contributions from other sources and in-kind contributions) and budget rationale, a timeline for the project and student transcripts if relevant. Submit an electronic copy of the proposal (as a single document) to Dr. Patrick Magee ( The Thornton committee will review proposals and notify applicants within one to three weeks. After approval, applicants must submit a signed hard copy of the proposal to the Thornton program director.

    For more information, contact a biology faculty member or Dr. Pat Magee, 970.943.7121 or