Faculty Profile

Valerie Banschbach, PhD

Professor of Biology

Ph.D. Biology, University of Miam, Coral Gables, FL
B.A. Biology, Pomona College, Claremont CA
Additional coursework: Primate Social Behavior, 1985, School for Field Studies program in Panama; Tropical Ecology, 1989, Organization for Tropical Studies Graduate Semester in Costa Rica

View my Curriculum Vitae

Areas of Expertise:

Behavioral and population ecology; conservation biology; environmental studies; social insects, focussing on ants and bees; evolution of social behavior; tropical ecology; pollination biology and other plant-animal interactions; pedagogy in science and environmental studies

Courses I Teach:

  • Animal Behavior
  • Biological Communications
  • Biology Senior Seminar
  • First-Year Seminar
  • Introduction to Environmental Studies
  • Introduction to Ecology and Evolution
  • Organic Farming and Conservation of Biodiversity in India
  • Population Ecology
  • Solving Environmental Problems
  • Tropical Ecology in Costa Rica

Recent Conference Presentations:

Entomological Society of America, National Meeting, Reno, Nevada, USA; Co–author on Emily Ogilvy*’s presentation “A study of ant diversity in burned and unburned sandplain forest in Vermont”. Poster presentation, November, 2011.

Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences, Annual Meeting, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT, USA; Panelist for session on “Envrionmental Studies and Sciences Program Development and Assessment”; Presentation “Developing an Environmental Studies Program at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont”. Co-authors SMC Professors Jeff Ayres, Bret Findley and Richard Kujawa.

Recent Submissions to Referred Journal:

Banschbach, V.S., *Yeamans, R.L., *Brunelle, A., *Gulka, A. and *M. Holmes. Submitted 2011. Ants as bioindicators: Impacts of edge habitats on community and social structure of North temperate deciduous forest ants.

Recently Published Referred Journal Articles:

Banschbach, V.S. and R. Letovsky. 2011. Teaming Environmental Biology and Business Administration Seniors on “Green” Enterprise Plans at Saint Michael's College, Colchester, VT. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences. Available at: http://www.springerlink.com/openurl.aspgenre=article&id=doi:10.1007/s13412-011-0036-x

Banschbach, V.S. and R. Letovsky. 2011. The use of corn and sugarcane to produce biofuel.Pages 6 – 16. In Tested Studies for Laboratory Teaching, Volume 32 (K. McMahon,Editor). Proceedings of the 32nd Conference of the Association of Biology Laboratory Educators (ABLE), 383 pages. http://www.ableweb.org/volumes/vol-32/v32reprint.php?ch-1

Banschbach, V.S. and R. Letovsky. 2010. The use of corn and sugarcane toproduce ethanol fuel: A fermentation experiment for environmental studies. American Biology Teacher, 72(1): 31 – 36.

Recently Non-referred Published Essay:

Banschbach, V.S. “I Believe” column for the Burlington Free Press, Green Mountain Section, October 2, 2011. "We could make room at the top for wolves once again."

Recent Research Projects in Collaboration with Saint Michael's Undergraduates:

Ants as bioindicators in sandplain forest at the Camp Johnson, Vermont Army National Guard Base. Ongoing project assessing the usefulness of ants as bioindicators of ecosystem health in relation to time post-burn. Recent undergraduate collaborator: Emily Ogilvy, '12

Effects of urbanization on the behavior of Eastern Grey Squirrels. Recent undergraduate collaborator: Kaitlyn O'Donnell, '11

Ongoing Collaborations with Community Partners:

Wildlife monitoring using sign and tracks. Focal species: carnivores and large mammals, including bobcat, bear, moose, otter, mink and fisher. Collaboration to develop SMC student internship and research opportunities with Susan Morse, Keeping Track, Inc., non-profit organization based in VT.

Water quality and urbanization. Developing internship and project opportunities for SMC students with the Essex Junction Wastewater Treatment Plant Water Quality Superintendent James Jutras.


Politi Fund Award from Saint Michael's College for site visit to India to develop study abroad experience for Environmental Studies students with Prof. Laurie Gagne


Faculty Development Curriculum Grant: Project title: Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences Conference Attendance and Panel Participation, Portland, OR


Inducted as Graduate Member into the Biological Honor Society, Βeta Βeta Βeta


Faculty Development Grant. Project title: Ants as Bioindicators, for work at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University and in Joan Herbers’s lab at the Ohio State University


Faculty Development Grant. Project title: Ants as Bioindicators, for work in Costa Rica


Vermont Genetics Network Faculty Summer Research Grant. Awarded directly from VGN. Project title: Ant Species Diversity in Edge vs. Interior Forest Habitats in Vermont. ($8,000)

Favorite Course to Teach:

My favorite subject to teach is Environmental Studies because of the connections across so many different areas of learning. I have learned an enormous amount from developing coursework in environmental studies and connecting with the vibrant environmentally oriented broader community in Vermont as part of my work in developing the new Environmental Studies program.

Personal Trivia:

I have a Staffordshire bull terrier dog and in the past owned an American Staffordshire terrier; I am a fan of the "bull breed" dogs and other terriers.

With a goal of becoming less dependent upon the corporate industrial agricultural system and fostering environmental sustainability, my family and I raise most of our own meat and some root crops and vegetables each year on less than three acres. We raise chickens for meat and eggs, ducks for eggs, pigs, and turkeys. We also grow hops for sale to local microbreweries.

One side of my family is from a tiny town in the Appalachian hills of Kentucky; the town bears the family name.

Valerie Banschbach, professor of biology, on February 11, 2014, presented an invited lecture for the Beta Beta Beta Biological Honor Society, Saint Michael’s College Chapter, entitled, “Ants and Tigers: Agriculture and Conservation of Wildlife in India.” On January 16, 2014, she gave  invited presentations at Roanoke College, Environmental Studies Program, Salem, VA, including a research lecture on “Ants as Bioindicators: Monitoring Forest Restoration in Vermont and Assessing Impacts of Organic Agriculture in Uttarakhand, India,” and a teaching demonstration on “Agriculture and Conservation of Biodiversity: Rice in India as a Case Study.”  In December 2013 during the time she spent fall semester as a Fulbright-Nehru Senior Scholar, Valerie presented at the Indian 10th National Symposium on Soil Biology, Ecology, Sustainable Agriculture and Social Insects, Bangalore/Bengaluru, Karnataka; and also for the national meeting of Indian Society of Soil Biology & Ecology and the Indian section of the International Union for the Study of Social Insects; GKVK Campus of University of Agricultural, Sciences, Bangalore, Karnataka, India. Valerie’s oral presentation was entitled, “Ants as Bioindicators of Forest and Agro-ecosystem Health.” On December 16, 2013 she made an invited presentation to the Department of Entomology, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, Karnataka, India – a lecture entitled “Ants as Bioindicators of Forest and Agro-Ecosystem Health.” (March 2014)

Valerie Banschbach, professor of biology and environmental studies, who is in India this year as a Fulbright-Nehru Senior Scholar, recently traveled south from her base at the Wildlife Institute of India in Uttarakhand, India, to give an invited lecture on October 24 as part of the weekly seminar series at the prestigious Indian Institute of Sciences, Center for Ecological Science, Bangalore (Bengaluru), Karnataka. Her presentation was entitled, "Ants as Bioindicators: A Case Study from the U.S.A. and ongoing work in India." She also was invited to give an outreach presentation on November 6 about her work at the Wellham School for Boys, an international boarding school in Dehradun, Uttarkhand, India. Her presentation was entitled, "Ants: Little Creatures Who Run the World." (November 2013)

Valerie Banschbach, professor of biology, is in India working at the Wildlife Institute of India as a Fulbright-Nehru Scholar this semester. On September 6, she was invited to give a guest lecture and lead a discussion for Indian Forest Officers in a Post Graduate Diploma Program in Advanced Wildlife Management at the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, Uttarkhand, India. The program is meant for current Indian Forest Service and State Forest Service Officers of the rank of Deputy Conservator of Forests, Assistant Conservator of Forests and equivalent. The title of Valerie’s invited lecture was "Ecological Importance of Ants and their use as Bioindicators." Her lecture was part of a broader series of talks focusing on Conservation Biology. Valerie also gave an interview to the Amar Ujala Hindi Daily newspaper about her research in India on the impacts of organic farming on biodiversity, published on August 11, 2013, both in print and online. The paper has a wide circulation area covering much of North India, including Delhi. (September 2013)

Biology professor and chairperson of environmental studies, Valerie Banschbach of Jericho learned Feb. 21, 2013 that she has been named a U. S. Fulbright Scholar. Professor Banschbach will spend five months in India starting in the fall of 2013 teaching and researching organic versus conventional farms, in collaboration with the Wildlife Institute of India.

Professor Banschbach is the fourth Saint Michael's College professor to receive a Fulbright fellowship in the last year:  Art History Professor Amy Werbel spent an academic year in China; Political Science Professor Patricia Siplon spent a year in Jordan, and Education Professor Aostre Johnson is spending this academic in Ireland. A fifth Fulbright has been awarded this year but has not yet announced.

Professor Banschbach's Fulbright topic is titled "Ecology and Conservation of Biodiversity: Ants as Bioindicators to Assess Impacts of Organic Farming in India." This project came out of a three-year experience working with Indian farming programs. Her Fulbright work will expand her U.S.-based research on ants as bio-indicators for answering agricultural questions.

Focusing on ant diversity, Professor Banschbach, an entomologist, expects her research to yield theoretical results and practical insights for Indian farmers. Her work evolved from the 2010 launch of the Environmental Studies major at Saint Michael's, which was inaugurated with a talk by scientist, Vandana Shiva. Professor Shiva is founder of Navdanya's Farm, an organic training center in the city of Dehradun, India, home to the Wildlife Institute of India. 

Evolution of Professor Banschbach's Indian connection

Prof Banschbach and Dr. ShivaProfessor Shiva reciprocated with an invitation to Professor Banschbach to visit Navdanya’s Farm and the Wildlife Institute in spring 2011, where she witnessed impressive grassroots efforts of researchers and students to improve their communities through farming advances. Professor Banschbach returned to India in summer 2012 and taught "Organic Agriculture and Conservation of Biodiversity" for 12 Saint Michael's students with the participation of two additional professors.

"The experience will leave me well prepared to bring future Saint Michael's students to India in study abroad courses and to deepen the relationship between Saint Michael's and India," she wrote in her proposal.

"Given that the richness of India's ecosystems is coupled with high human population density and development pressure, the stresses on natural systems are enormous, creating many difficult ramifications for people and non-human species," Professor Banschbach wrote in her Fulbright proposal.

India has more than 400,000 organic farms. Ants can provide scientists much information about farms, she says, even though often they are "overlooked in favor of often-celebrated earthworms."

The Fulbright grant provides Professor Banschbach with five months' funding for teaching and research, along with travel, board and schooling expenses allowing her to bring her husband and two daughters, age 12 and 8. "It will be exciting for all of us," she said.

Fulbright award letter to Professor Banschbach

"Your selection for a Fulbright award is, in itself, an achievement for which you can be justly proud," wrote Tom Healy, chair of the selection board, in a letter of Feb. 21. "As a Fulbright grantee, you will join the ranks of distinguished participants in the Program. Fulbright alumni have become heads of state, judges, ambassadors, cabinet ministers, CEOS, university presidents, journalists, artists, professors and teachers. They have been awarded 43 Nobel Prizes. Since its inception more than 60 years ago, approximately 300,000 Fulbrighters have participated in the program." Goals of the program are to develop international understanding and promote hallmark qualities of service, excellence and leadership, Healy wrote, adding, "We hope that your Fulbright experience will be highly rewarding professionally and personally, and that you will share the knowledge you gain as a Fulbrighter with many others throughout your life."

Valerie Banschbach, professor of biology and Environmental Studies Department chair, published a manuscript for August 2012 in the peer-reviewed entomological journal Psyche, entitled "Edge effects on community and social structure of Northern temperate deciduous forest ants." This publication reports the results of two years of field research, involving four Saint Michael’s undergraduate student researchers (who were Biology majors) who worked with Valerie. The work was conducted at the Mills Riverside Park in Jericho, VT. All of her co-authors were SMC student researchers who are now alumni.

Valerie also travelled to Uganda (August 4 – 17, 2012) to participate in a workshop regarding ant diversity assessment in the Kibale National Forest, near Fort Portal. The workshop participants came from 17 different countries and spent nearly two weeks collecting and identifying ants and found more than 60 genera, including two species not previously described from Uganda. Earlier, just after last year’s Commencement, Valerie travelled to Northern India (May 16- June 3, 2012) with 12 Saint Michael’s Environmental Studies students, as well as colleagues Mark Lubkowitz, associate professor of biology, and Mike Bosia, associate professor of political science and Gender Studies coordinator, to teach an Environmental Studies class on “Organic Farming and Conservation of Biodiversity” at the organic farm training center run by Navdanya. Valerie was the instructor of record for the class but Mark and Mike came along to provide additional perspectives, pilot their own work at the site and serve as additional group chaperones. During the course, participants learned about Indian methods of organic farming, composting and other sustainable living technologies. While at the farm they surveyed bird diversity on the organic farm versus neighboring synthetic-pesticide-using farms to assess impacts of organic farming on biodiversity. They also visited and met with scientists at the Wildlife Institute of India and the Forest Research Institute. And, they made cultural excursions into the spice and food markets of Old Delhi, the aarti Hindu ritual at Haridwar, a holy city on the Ganges River, went on a safari in the Rajaji National Park and trekked to a temple set on a mountain in the Himalayas. Valerie and Peter Hope, Instructor of Biology, worked with four Saint Michael’s student interns to survey plants and invertebrates at Camp Johnson (June and July, 2012) to establish summer baseline data for an upcoming controlled burn experiment that the Biology Department will take on in partnership with the Nature Conservancy, State of Vermont and personnel at the Army National Guard base at Camp Johnson. The student research intern positions were funded by the John C. Hartnett Endowment to the Biology Department. Some funding for the upcoming Spring semester 2013 also will be provided by the Harnett Endowment. This work relates strongly to the student research that all biology majors join during their first semester in the Biology 151: Intro to Ecology and Evolution laboratory.

Jericho resident Valerie S. Banschbach, Saint Michael's College professor of biology, received the 2012 Norbert A. Kuntz Service Award, presented in ceremonies held September 28 at the annual Saint Michael's College Academic Convocation in McCarthy Arts Center. Professor Banschbach was selected by her faculty colleagues, and the citation was read by last year's recipients of the award, chemistry professor Bret Findley and religious studies professor Edward Mahoney.

The citation:

A survey of the curricular landscape in higher education reveals a new focus at many institutions on interdisciplinary study of the environment.  There is a growing recognition that industry, government, and society at large need a cadre of professionals who know enough about natural science, public policy, and humanistic values related to the environment to become effective leaders in helping preserve our planet. 

Spear-headed the Environmental Studies major

Valerie Banschbach recognized this need and, in collaboration with many others, spearheaded the creation of the Environmental Studies major at Saint Michael’s College.  Overnight it became one of the most popular majors in our curriculum.  There had been earlier pioneers, of course, since the College had long had an Environmental Science program and an Environmental Studies minor.  But Valerie and her team created something brand new, modeled on programs at other schools, but with unique Saint Michael’s twists, and with more scientific rigor than many other programs of its type.  For this extraordinary service of shepherding an important new major to its birth, the College will forever be in Valerie's debt.

Service on virtually every faculty committee

Service has come naturally to Valerie throughout her career.  Since coming to Saint Michael's in 1997, she has been on virtually every committee that exists at the College.  The list includes, but is not limited to, Human Subjects, Admissions and Financial Aid, Faculty Council, and Faculty Welfare.  After chairing the Faculty Council in 2009-10, Valerie thought it was important for someone with Council experience to run for Welfare, so even though others might have dialed back on major committee service while leading the creation of a new major, Valerie put herself forward and brought her wealth of experience to the Welfare Committee. 

Service also on Underhill ID School Board

Eastern Chittenden County has also benefitted from Valerie's spirit of service, as she has served on the Underhill ID School Board since 2006 and in two of those years, including the current one, she has been on the Executive Committee of the Chittenden East Supervisory Union.  She also serves her profession as manuscript reviewer for eight different refereed journals.

Study trips to Costa Rica and India

Valerie has never let her dedication to service diminish her teaching and scholarship.  She has helped to develop and lead innovative new courses, including study trips to Costa Rica and India.  She is widely published in her field, and her research often involves undergraduates, a paradigm perfectly suited to the sort of teaching and learning prized at a college like Saint Michael's.  For all her contributions in the realm of service, Saint Michael's College is proud to award the 2012 Norbert A. Kuntz Service Award to Valerie S. Banschbach.

See the repeat in vermontbiz.com.

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