New Department Head, Frank Ammer, PhD, Talks about Growth and Change

The Biology Department has two new areas of study: the BS to MS in cardiovascular perfusion degree and the intraoperative neuromonitoring program. Both areas tout highly attractive job prospects and will prepare graduates to hit the ground running in the workplace. Perfusionists monitor the heart and circulatory system of a patient undergoing surgery, while surgical neurophysiologists monitor the nervous system during brain and spinal cord operations.

Frank Ammer, PhD '97 launched the new programs in 2017, the first year he headed up the Biology Department at Carlow. His work is quite different from 25 years ago, when getting "under the hood" of a patient was a literal statement for Ammer, who worked as a body shop mechanic for a local automotive dealership.

"I woke up one day and said to myself, 'I don't want to do that anymore'," Ammer said.

A U.S. Army veteran and an adult learner, Ammer jumpstarted a career change at age 30 by studying biology at the Community College of Allegheny County. Next, in a search for a four-year

school, he applied and was accepted to multiple universities, but chose Carlow and earned his bachelor's degree in 1997.

"I liked the small class size and the interaction with faculty. I liked that I was not just a number, but I had a name at Carlow," he said.

He then received his MS in Biology from Clarion University. He kept in touch with his mentor at Carlow, former department head Michael Capp, PhD. Capp served on Ammer's dissertation committee and was an assigning member of his PhD at West Virgina University. In 2003, Ammer began teaching wildlife biology at Frostburg State University.

Ammer was approaching his 15th anniversary teaching at Frostburg when Capp gave him a call letting him know he was leaving his position.

"Carlow is the only university for which I would have left my past position. I was not actively looking for a job, but Dr. Capp encouraged me to apply," Ammer said.

He admitted it felt like he never left, having maintained his Carlow relationship since 1997.

"I relocated geographically, but I remained engaged," he said.

From the start, Ammer was charged with growing the department, and he did.

Biology is the second-largest Carlow major after nursing. In the fall of 2018, biology attracted more majors than nursing for the first time, with 76 new students. The department added a new faculty member and is interviewing for two more.

It seems the Biology Department will benefit from Ammer's leadership.

"One thing we do very well here at Carlow: We care about our students. We're willing to work with them, and we're willing to help them succeed in their majors," he said.

Setting goals and setting his mind to them are two of Ammer's strengths. The Biology Department that mentored a car mechanic and changed his life decades ago will guide the next biology majors toward a bright future.


By Ann Lyon Ritchie