Online learning helps a psych major succeed in biology

Student with microscope

“As a young child, I was fascinated by science. It all started with the one and only Bill Nye, the Science Guy! Science class was always so much fun when we watched him on TV. This really made me want to know more about the field of science, which then turned to the next question: ‘What do I want to do in this huge field?’” said Vanessa Montoya, a student at Broward College in South Florida.

It was a volunteer experience with special needs children that first sparked Vanessa’s interest in a particular field: psychology. She said, “It was a lot of fun, and I got to learn many things about myself. The brain has always sparked my interest, and getting to work with the special needs kids made me want to explore the development of the human brain more.”

Her interest was confirmed when she took a developmental psychology class with Dr. Noelle Crooks during her first year at Broward College. “That class is what really got my passion for psychology going. It was how my professor taught the course and let us ask questions, basically getting us involved with the class. We learned about the whole lifespan of a human being as well as what developmental psychology is all about,” said Vanessa.

With her psychology courses complete, she began to focus on electives and other required courses. One of her required classes was an honors Biology II class with Professor Thaddeus R. McRae. Vanessa was concerned about getting a good grade because she hadn’t taken a biology class since high school. She said, “It was one of the most challenging courses I’d ever taken.” But with the help of a personalized learning tool, MasteringBiology™, she was able to succeed.

With the help of MasteringBiology, I was able to get the grade I wanted for the class, and I learned a lot in the process.


Vanessa found the concept maps in the personalized learning tool particularly helpful. “The concept maps really help sort through a long hour-and-a-half’s worth of lecture into something you can visually see and understand. I actually started to do more concept maps while I studied for my exams for biology class since I noticed that it helped with grasping the ‘big picture’ of the lesson,” she said.

Vanessa also explained that since biology and psychology are both sciences, some approaches are similar, such as the need to review and understand research. She said, “The research studies provided in MasteringBiology are a huge help. They are challenging but it helps, since my field requires me to look at research and answer questions. I haven’t taken a psychology course in about two terms since I fulfilled the elective credits for my major. It definitely helps to look at biology research and answer questions to refresh what I used to do in my psych classes.”

Photo of Vanessa MontoyaNow in her final year at Broward College, Vanessa is preparing for her next step: transferring to Florida International University to continue her studies. She said, “Once there, I will begin my research topics. After that, I will transfer to another institution to complete my graduate program.”

Vanessa is excited about completing her education so she can start giving back to her community, but also for a personal reason. “Both my parents were immigrants from Colombia who came to this country for a better life,” she said. “I am the first on my mother’s side of the family who will be graduating from college here in the United States, which is exciting!”