Helen Hess

Helen Hess
207-801-5713 | hhess@coa.edu

Helen HessHelen Hess received a B.S. in Biology from UCLA in 1985 and a Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Washington in 1991. She has been on the faculty at COA since 1994. Helen teaches a variety of biology courses at COA, most of which involve a significant field or lab component. Her formal training as an invertebrate zoologist has lead her to develop courses that take her and her students wherever invertebrates are found, including local rivers, Maine's rocky intertidal shores, and Caribbean coral reefs. She also teaches a course in bio mechanics, where students explore how the laws of physics have played a role the evolution of living organisms. Helen also has strong interests in teacher education and spends part of every summer involved in courses and workshops aimed at K-12 teachers as well as COA students who are pursuing a teaching credential. Helen's research interests focus on the reproductive biology of marine organisms, and she has studied parental behavior in worms, mating systems in mouth brooding in fishes, and the evolution of self-fertilization in hermaphroditic invertebrates. While she mainly identifies herself as a teacher at COA, she also enjoys including students in her research activities. She is currently working with COA students on a project studying the reproductive biology of a large, local sea cucumber species that is the target of an emergent fishery. She is also involved in writing papers with COA students on research projects on cleaning behavior in tropical reef fishes and on the evolution of egg size in fishes. In addition to publishing in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, Helen also occasionally writes science articles for popular magazines.

B.S. University of California Los Angeles, 1985
Ph.D. Zoology, University of Washington, 1991

Courses Taught

ES1010Biology I

This is the first half of a 20-week, two-term introductory course in biology, providing an overview of the discipline and prerequisite for many intermediate and advanced biology courses.  The course provides an integrative view of the attributes of plants and animals, including cell biology, physiology, reproduction, genetics and evolution, growth and differentiation, anatomy, behavior, and environmental interactions.  Weekly laboratory sessions or field trips augment material covered in lecture and discussion.  Attendance at three lectures and one lab each week is required; course evaluation is based on quality of class participation, exams, problem sets, preparation of a lab notebook, and a written term paper. 

Level: Introductory.  Prerequisites: College-level algebra (by course, assessment,) or signature of instructors, chemistry helpful.  Lab fee: $25.  Meets the following degree requirements: ES


Why do we get shorter and wrinklier with age?  Were dinosaurs warm-blooded?  How do grasshoppers hop?  These diverse questions are all within the realm of biomechanics.  A knowledge of biomechanics, or the ways in which plants and animals cope with the laws of physics, can promote an understanding of organisms at all levels of organization, from molecules to ecosystems.  In this course we explore several areas of physical science, including mechanical engineering, materials science, and fluid dynamics, as a means of gaining insight into the biological world.  Students attend two lecture sessions per week and one three-hour lab session for discussions of current research in biomechanics, review of homework assignments, and laboratory observations or demonstrations.  Evaluations are based on participation in discussions, weekly problem sets, two term papers, and a final exam.  

Level: Intermediate/Advanced.  Prerequisites:  One college-level course in Biology and one college-level course in Math or Physics or signature of instructor.  
Class limit: 16.  Offered every other year.  Lab fee: $15.  Meets the following degree requirements: QR ES


This course will explore the many roles that genes play in the biology of organisms, the molecular basis of gene function, and the methodologies used in genetic research and application.  Students in this course should already have a basic understanding from an introductory biology course of the structure and function of genes and chromosomes, the processes involved in gene expression, and patterns of inheritance.  This course will explore these phenomena more deeply as well as delve into a range of other topics, including population genetics, quantitative genetics, genes in development, genomics, and using genetic data to understand human evolution.  We will also discuss the use of genetic engineering in industry, agriculture, medicine, and research.  We will meet twice weekly for lectures and once per week for discussion of readings and problem sets.  Evaluation is based on short problem sets, take-home exams, an oral presentation, and a final paper.  

Level: Intermediate. Prerequisite: Successful completion of Biology I or permission of instructor. Class limit: 16.  Meets the following degree requirements: ES

ES3020Invertebrate Zoology

This course is a phylogenetic survey of the major groups of animals without backbones.  These animals range in size from single cells to giant squids, and they include the vast majority of animals on earth.  Using text readings, assigned articles, and one afternoon per week of field/lab work, students gain an understanding of the classification, ecology, evolutionary relationships, and economic significance of this remarkably diverse collection of organisms.  Students are evaluated on participation, lab notebooks, and performance on weekly quizzes and two tests.

Level: Intermediate.  Prerequisites:  Biology I and II or signature of instructor.  Offered every other year.  Class limit: 16.  Lab fee $25.  Meets the following degree requirements: ES

MD1010Islands Through Time

14,000 years of Human Ecology on the Coast of Maine
The coast of Maine is an ideal location for studies of the effects of changing ecologies, landscapes, and cultures on the human experience. 14000 years ago, the entire area was covered with a dense ice sheet, and at present we are facing the uncertain future of Global Warming. Between these points, the coast and islands have experienced flood, fire, earthquakes, and an enormous range of human and non-human occupants. This team-taught course will use the inter-disciplinary lens of Human Ecology to examine the consequences, implications, and potential meanings of our dwelling within both this particular landscape and other landscapes perhaps initially more familiar to students. A strong emphasis will be placed upon developing a "sense of place" through the examination of a novel, scientific writing, music, and experiential venturing upon the land and seas, learning about the history, culture, ecology, oceanography and geology of the Maine coastline, both in and by the ocean. Although a substantial element of each day's work will take the form of field trips, students will also be responsible for readings, attending a series of lectures by faculty and local experts, and working with multimedia forms. Interest in music, writing, and ecology are strongly encouraged. Students will be evaluated based on class participation, a daily log of their experiences plus several short "response pieces" to assigned readings, and a multi-media presentation capturing some aspect of their learning. Students will receive narrative evaluations and a grade of CREDIT or NO CREDIT.

Level:  Introductory.  Prerequisites: Signature of Instructor.