I'm Dr. Susan Villarreal and I love science!

Susan Villarreal

Interested in my (super condensed) journey of how I became a Professor of Biology? Great, let's get scrolling!

I was born on an Air Force base in New Mexico but spent most of my life in Kansas City, MO. Around the age of 10, I decided I was going to be a biologist. I didn’t exactly understand what that meant, but I was inspired and determined to follow in the footsteps of my role models, Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey. Two brilliant scientists who dedicated their lives to gorillas, working to bring awareness and understanding to the behavior of these fascinating creatures.

It was in college that I figured out what type of biologist I wanted to be, because of two influential courses: Animal Behavior and Invertebrate Zoology. These classes sparked my passion for studying behavior and introduced me to the behavior-rich world of insects. While earning my B.S. degree from Truman State, I joined an insect-focused lab, where I developed a passion and thorough understanding of the inner workings of field research. That experience set me on an exciting path to earning my Ph.D. from the Department of Entomology at Cornell University, studying katydid mating behavior. Field research was a large part of my thesis, and like Jane and Dian, I was able to work alongside many brilliant scientists and even become a mentor for my summer student helpers.

After graduating, I was invited to continue working within the Cornell Entomology Department as a Postdoctoral Fellow studying the mating behavior of the yellow fever mosquito – an important vector of Zika, dengue, and chikungunya. I learned many advanced molecular techniques, including gene manipulations via CRISPR, and broadened my understanding and approach to the study of behavior.

Over the years, I've enjoyed sharing my expertise and love of insect biology and animal behavior with the talented students at Cornell University, Grinnell College, and now at Denison University as an Assistant Professor of Biology. Teaching is one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences because I'm able to provide my students with the necessary skills and desire to ask and answer important biological questions. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing my students develop the same love and passion for biology as I have.

Nerdy Facts Intermission

  • Number of celebrities met: 1 (William Shatner)
  • Favorite book: The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
  • Best Halloween costume I made: A playing card guard from Alice in Wonderland
  • Number of mosquitoes killed (single-handedly): Upwards of 5,000

Teaching through Research

Field Research

I focus on engaging students in biology so that their learning doesn’t stop once the course ends. I remember what it felt like for my first four years of college; it was as if my brain was opening up and concentrated knowledge and experiences were rushing in, shaping how I approach and analyze the world. As an instructor, it is now my responsibility to make sure the students’ foundation of knowledge and pathways of learning are shaped in such a way to promote well-rounded, mindful, critical thinkers. An essential component of this is to have research experience as an undergraduate, to understand the process of research, from hypothesis to publication. As a faculty member at Denison, I work with undergraduate students to teach the fundamentals of behavior and community ecology studies as well as explore the ecology of medically important insect vectors.

My Curricula Vitae
Discover Behavior

I’m a passionate behavioral ecologist and my goal is to share my enthusiasm for biology with my students.


I am a behavioral ecologist who studies insect mating behavior.

Tell Me More


My goal is to train the next generation of biologists.

Tell Me More

Science Fun

I enjoy lots of new and different opportunities to spread my love for biology.

Tell Me More


I’ve been lucky enough to receive some attention for my work.

Tell Me More