Dr. Mary Ann McLean portrait

Dr. Mary Ann McLean

Associate Professor, Biology

Phone: (403) 254-3710

Email: MaryAnn.McLean@stmu.ca

Office: A216

PhD Soil Ecology, University of Calgary
MSc Soil Ecology, University of Calgary
BSc Soil Science, University of Guelph

Specialization/research interests: microbial ecology, community ecology, natural history

Dr.-Mary-Ann-actionI came to St Mary’s University in 2008 by following a very circuitous path through a stint in architecture, grad school at the University of Calgary, postdocs in Finland and Fordham University, and several years teaching in Indiana.

The major theme running through my research and teaching is making connections. These include connections between people and their environment, between disciplines, and between approaches.

Connecting people with their environment includes a long-term applied study of an exotic invasive plant in Fish Creek with park staff and StMU students; developing labs using Winogradsky columns to show students the incredible biodiversity beneath their feet; labs that take students out into the park; and a new collaboration with a local school to naturalize their playground.

Connecting disciplines includes developing interdisciplinary courses; developing labs to explicitly connect chemistry and biology; and case studies that require social, economic, political as well as ecological information to solve real world problems.

Connections between approaches includes imitating the way video games give constant feedback and incrementally present more difficult tasks to help students acquire critical writing skills; and encouraging student creativity to engage the public in biological topics such as diversity or mycology.

When not at St Mary’s, I read, cycle, walk, take far too many photos, listen to early music and argue with my husband and son about words or history or mathematics. From April to October I can usually be found in my garden watching insects, tasting heirloom tomatoes or simply contemplating life.

Biology Professor Prefers Nature’s Classroom – Dr. Mary Ann McLean

(June 28, 2012) — Dr. Mary Ann McLean would trade bricks and mortar for nature’s classroom any day.

Whenever possible, the St. Mary’s University biology professor conducts classes in Fish Creek Provincial Park, located a few steps from campus.

She and her students are often spotted in the park taking water samples, identifying plants or observing wildlife as she shares her knowledge – and her love – of nature with them.

“At St. Mary’s, I love coming up with creative and interesting ways to get the students really excited about the natural world,” Dr. McLean said.

“And here, because of the small class sizes, we can do labs that wouldn’t be possible at larger institutions.”

Her enthusiasm for science began when she was an undergraduate student at the University of Guelph. She was uncertain which major to pursue until a colleague steered her towards soil biology, which eventually became her specialty.

“It is amazing the number of microscopic creatures living in the soil! I was hooked after seeing videos of them moving around and eating each other,” she said. “The astonishing thing is that even microscopic animals have behaviours.”

Since accepting a position as Associate Professor of Biology at St. Mary’s in 2008, Dr. McLean has revised BIOL 451: Biological Conservation, a popular course taught in conjunction with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Association.

Dr. McLean is currently Chair of Natural and Mathematical Sciences, and Faculty Representative on the St. Mary’s University Board of Governors.

“Co-teaching with a conservation specialist enhances the impact of the course,” says Dr. McLean. “Another important feature is that students develop their own real-world conservation project in collaboration with a local environmental NGO.”

She worked recently with colleagues in the history and English departments to design and teach IDST 333: Reading the Landscapes: Local Explorations in Literature, Ecology and History, a new interdisciplinary course that explores Southern Alberta’s wilderness spaces from various perspectives.

“One of the reasons I like the liberal arts environment is that you can do some really interesting interdisciplinary work,” Dr. McLean said. “There are so many creative ideas here at St. Mary’s and a real opportunity to work collaboratively.”

St. Mary’s team of science professors launched Discovering Science, a unique science outreach program for junior high school students, in 2009.

Students come to the St. Mary’s campus twice a month during the academic year to discover the joys and process of science through hands-on experiences. The students take part in experiments reflecting faculty interests in biology, chemistry, physics and engineering.

The successful program has attracted full enrolment and various government grants since its inception. Dr. McLean said that beyond a desire to share science with young students, she has an ulterior motive.

“We hope to turn junior high students on to science while they can still change their minds about high school and university course choices. Eventually, we’d love to see them as students here at St. Mary’s in one of our Bachelor of Arts degree or science transfer programs,” she said.


McLean, M.A., Grothman, G. 2015. Kill the Aliens: Controlling Leafy Spurge, a case study published by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University of Buffalo, NY. 13 pp.

McLean, M.A. 2013. Cheap and Easy Diversity for Introductory Biology. ABLE Proceedings Vol 35, 19 pp.

Francis-Poscente, K., McLean M.A., Clay, M., Grothman, G., Braverman, L. 2011. Pre-service teachers’ experiences Co-teaching with scientists in Discovering Science. Proceedings of the 2011 Annual Conference of the Canadian Society for the Study of Education

Conference presentations:

McLean, M.A. & Davis, T. 2016. Teaching science in a fundamentalist age: embracing epistemic discomfort and other intellectual virtues. Talk presented at Rouge Forum, STMU, May 28, 2016

McLean, M.A. 2016. Moving beyond fear: incrementalizing writing a term paper. Talk presented at Alberta Introductory Biology Association (AIBA), Red Deer May 10, 2016

McLean, M.A. 2015. Fear of Failure: Some Suggestions. Talk at Alberta Introductory Biology Association (AIBA), U of A, AB

McLean, M.A. 2014. Thesium arvense, a Potentially Invasive Weed in Alberta. Calgary and Area Weed School, Indus, AB

Other presentations:
McLean, M.A. 2015. Breaking it down to get the big picture. Talk at STMU faculty retreat, fall 2015

McLean, M.A., *Belanger, B. 2014. Thesium arvense and other invasive plants in Fish Creek Provincial Park. Invited presentation to community and FCPP staff, August 12, 2014, Calgary, AB

McLean, M.A., *Harder, E., Macdonald, I. and Yaki, G. 2013. Thesium arvense in Fish Creek Provincial Park. Presentation to staff at FCPP and municipal invasive species specialists

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