Jennifer Ufnar, PhD

ADJUNCT FACULTY, The John Merck Division of Science and Technology

Everett Mansion 309

Jennifer Ufnar, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, did not start out in life wanting to major in the sciences. Her love of sciences and teaching began when she took a geology class as a sophomore at Vanderbilt University. From that moment on, she wanted to learn as much as possible about the different sciences and to help young people find the same kind of fascination with geology and biology.

Dr. Ufnar has always loved working with children. As an undergraduate and graduate student, she visited elementary schools to help children learn about the sciences. Between her undergraduate and graduate degrees, she taught physical science and chemistry at the middle and high school levels. She left teaching to pursue a Ph.D. in Microbiology and combined her love of education and science in a position helping science teachers and students learn science in unique and creative ways to enhance critical thinking across the disciplines. She considers her position as an Assistant Professor of Biology the best of all worlds. She is able to combine her scientific and educational backgrounds to help SVC students learn the sciences from a truly interdisciplinary framework.

As an interdisciplinary scientist and educator, Dr. Ufnar tries to bring her multidisciplinary background into the classroom each day. It is her passion to help students learn by instilling a sense of the beauty of science through a thorough understanding of the nature and philosophy of science and to assist students in learning and applying problem-solving skills and thinking critically and creatively about the world around them. Dr. Ufnar hopes that through her teaching she can help students understand how science is integral to the world around them and how they can achieve a high degree of self-confidence in their ability to think critically and learn how to apply scientific understanding in their everyday lives.

Currently, Dr. Ufnar is working on educational research projects as well as her research in environmental microbiology. She is working with colleagues at Vanderbilt University to determine the efficacy of long-term interventions at the K-12 levels in enhancing the understanding of science by students and teachers. She is also collaborating with Dr. Jennifer Nelson, Assistant Professor of Math and Biology at SVC, to understand and model the ecology of methanogens in animal waste lagoons.

Dr. Ufnar is always continuing to meet, revise and develop goals for herself and her students. She continues to learn from her mentors and looks forward to being a mentor to her students. She lives by the saying, “Education is about being a lifelong learner. I hope to instill this in my students.”


  • PhD, Biology, University of Southern Mississippi
  • BS, Geology, Vanderbilt University

Courses taught

  • Anatomy & Physiology
  • Topics in Environmental Studies
  • Microbiology
  • Biology 1 & 2

academic Research/interests

My scientific research focuses on distinguishing among nonpoint sources of fecal pollution in recreational waters. I have targeted methanogens as an untapped source of possible indicators of fecal pollution. I have developed a wide variety of methanogen molecular markers for the host-specific identification of animal fecal pollution in recreational waters including sewage-specific, bovine-specific, ruminant-specific, and swine-specific markers. A second phase of research that I am currently conducting involves determining the ecology of methanogens in animal waste lagoons (swine and bovine) and sewage and comparing these environments to determine potential novel molecular markers for fecal pollution discrimination.

In addition to my environmental microbiology research, I am also studying the ecology and evolution of methanogens in the gastrointestinal tracts of ruminant and monogastric animals. Many studies have researched methanogen communities in economically important animal systems such as the bovine rumen, but few have targeted animals not utilized in the agricultural sector. As methanogens are extremely difficult to culture, with only a few genera isolated from the animal gut, current and future study of these prokaryotes requires the use of molecular methods. In this research, I have cloned and sequenced the mcrA gene from several different animal digestive systems (ovine, bovine, deer, equine, human sewage, swine, and chicken), compared the sequences, and am in the process of elucidating the community structure in the individual GI tracts, as well as inter-GI comparisons. Further, as an exciting new avenue of research, I am currently working to determine the presence or absence of methanogens in the human and swine gastric environment to determine the potential relationship between methanogens, H. pylori, and ulcer formation.

For the past four years, I have also been part of a team researching science education outreach programs at the middle and high school levels. We are currently performing research to determine the efficacy of intervention programs placing a graduate student with a partner teacher in a middle school for one day per week for an entire year. The results indicate that a long-term intervention such as this has positive effects for all parties including teachers, fellows, and students. The program has increased student test scores in science, increased levels of enthusiasm for learning and school, and gives students positive role models. Fellows gain teaching experience, increased confidence in public speaking, an appreciation for the challenges in the public school environment, and an appreciation for the importance of their scientific work. This research has shown that teachers gain a higher level of professional development in working with graduate students and universities, as well as a greater appreciation for the needs of their students. 


Public Health Microbiology, Environmental Microbiology, Science Education and Outreach


Ufnar, J.A., Kuner, S., Shepherd, V. 2012. Moving Beyond GK12. Cell Biology Education. Accepted for Publication.

Flood, C., Ufnar, J.A., Wang, S.Y., Qualls, C., Johnson, J., Ellender, R.D. 2011. Lack of correlation between enterococcal counts and human-specific markers in Mississippi creek and coastal waters. Water Res. 45(2): 872-878.

Johnston, C., Ufnar, J.A., Griffith, J.F., Gooch, J., Stewart, J.R. 2010. A real-time qPCR assay for the detection of the nifH gene of Methanobrevibacter smithii, a potential human-specific indicator of sewage pollution. J. Appl. Microbiol. 109(6): 1946-1956.

Ufnar, J.A., Wang, S., Christiansen, J.M., Yampara-Iquise, H., Carson, C.A., Ellender, R.D. 2006. Detection of the nifH gene of Methanobrevibacter smithii: a potential tool to identify sewage pollution in recreational waters. J. Appl. Microbiol. 101:44-52.

Ufnar, J.A., Ufnar, D.F., Wang, S.Y., Ellender, R.D. Development of a Methanogen Marker for Detection of Porcine Fecal Pollution in Surface Waters, Appl. Envir. Microbiol. 73:5209-5217.

Ufnar, J.A., Wang, S.Y., Ufnar, D.F., Ellender, R.D. Methanobrevibacter ruminantium as an indicator of domestic ruminant fecal pollution in surface waters, Appl. Envir. Microbiol. 73(21):7118-7121.

McCombs, G., Ufnar, J.A., and Shepherd, V.L. 2007. McCombs, G., Ufnar, J.A., and Shepherd, V.L. 2007. The virtual scientist: Connecting university scientists to the K-12 classroom through videoconferencing. Amer. J. Physiol. 31:62-66.

Ufnar, D.F., Ufnar, J.A., White, T.W., Rebarchik, D., Ellender, R.D., 2005, Meteorological influences on fecal coliform pollution in the Mississippi Sound, Transactions, Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies, 55:835-843.

Ufnar, D.F., Ufnar, J.A., Rebarchik, D., Ellender, R.D., 2006, Influence of coastal processes on high fecal coliform counts in Mississippi beach waters, Journal of Coastal Research, 22(6):1515-1526.

Ferguson, J.S., Voelker, D.R., Ufnar, J.A., Dawson, A.J., and Schlesinger, L.S. 2002. Surfactant protein D inhibition of human macrophage uptake of Mycobacterium tuberculosis is independent of bacterial agglutination, J. Immunol., 168:1309-1314.

Ufnar, J.A., Flood, C., Ellender, R.D., Diversity of methanogens in dairy wastewater lagoon environments, in prep.

Ufnar, J.A., Flood, C., Ellender, R.D., Diversity of methanogens in swine wastewater lagoon environments, in prep.

Ufnar, J.A., Flood, C., Ellender, R.D. Diversity of methanogens in broiler chicken populations. In prep.

Ufnar, J.A., Flood, C., Ellender, R.D. Methanogen community analysis of methanogens in animal waste lagoons and sewage. In prep.

Why I teach

It is my passion to teach. I love to help students realize their dreams and goals. I was lucky enough to work under several mentors in science and science education who allowed me the ability to choose my own path of success and helped me reach my goals. Most importantly, these mentors helped me learn how to mentor others. It is my desire to help students understand their own success through their experiences at Southern Vermont College..

Favorite Book

Because I love to read, it is very hard for me to choose just one book. I read all of the books my son reads (the Harry Potter series, the Percy Jackson series, and the Kane Chronicles), and I love well-written historical fiction such as The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson and The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough. I have always appreciated short stories (Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder, Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and A Jury of Her Peers by Susan Glaspell), and I very much enjoy scientific nonfiction, mysteries, science fiction and fantasy.

Favorite FILM

It is also hard for me to choose just one movie, since my family and I love to watch movies together. If I had to list a few they would be A Fish Called Wanda, Raising Arizona, A Shot in the Dark, Young Frankenstein (or any Mel Brooks film), The Red Violin, and The Incredibles.

Best part of being at SVC

Coming from a background at different colleges and universities, I really appreciate the emphasis put on the students at SVC. I feel that everyone at this school truly cares about the students and their success.