Marine biology major

New degree track to offer rare opportunities in marine biology

Beginning next fall, the Walla Walla University Department of Biological Sciences will offer a bachelor of science in marine biology. The new degree track will be one of the only marine biology programs at a private school on the West Coast. 

According to Kirt Onthank, associate professor of biology and Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory director, there are many reasons why WWU is an excellent place to study marine biology. Onthank explained that marine biologists almost always work closely with engineers because marine biology requires many custom-made tools. Since WWU has a well-established School of Engineering, marine biology students will be able to gain collaboration skills and do high-caliber research. Additionally, WWU’s satellite campus at Rosario offers a highly equipped, unique lab location for waterfront education. 

“WWU is one of only three small private institutions with a marine biology program, a marine laboratory, and an engineering program,” said Onthank. “Of those three, WWU is the only one that is religiously affiliated.” WWU also has the highest institutional yield ratio among these schools, meaning that it is highly successful in preparing students for graduate school. Onthank explained that graduate degrees are essential for those hoping to become marine biologists.

The major will include several new class offerings facilitated by both the Department of Biology Sciences and the School of Engineering. These courses include an introduction to marine sciences, engineering for the life sciences, and motorboat operation. The biology department also has four faculty members with specific expertise in areas of marine biology who will teach within the program. 

Marine biology students will follow a different schedule during their junior and senior years to allow for more time at Rosario without it being cost-prohibitive. Junior and senior students will study at Rosario during the summer and take spring quarters off instead of a traditional summer break. This will allow financial aid—which is normally limited to three quarters per year—to be applied toward summer courses. 

Learn more about this new program at

Posted May 6, 2024


Scuba divers walk into the ocean with research gear
Student looking through microscope