Biological Station Initiative

Expanding Field-Based Learning Experiences

Finding answers to the environmental and public health issues we face today will take engagement from many different disciplines. For years, the University of Michigan Biological Station, located in northern Michigan on Douglas Lake, has provided student research experiences in biology, ecology and atmospheric/climate science. This project will work with multiple U-M units to develop courses that include a summer field placement at the Biological Station. These courses will engage students not only from biology, ecology, and climate science, but also from other environmental sciences, public health, engineering, urban planning, and art and design, as well as the humanities and social sciences. Courses will include field-based research and projects focused on solving environmental problems and sustaining healthy people and ecosystems. Emphasis will be on climate change impacts, the Great Lakes system, biodiversity protection and stressed ecosystems.

Project Background

For more than 100 years, the Biological Station has offered the types of student learning experiences, and has generated the kinds of outcomes, that the U-M’s Third Century Initiative seeks to inspire. This living-learning community hosts students and faculty living side by side and working where they live, researching the habitats and ecosystems of the world’s largest freshwater basin from its almost exact geographic center. Biological Station students have unique opportunities for engagement, and for addressing unexpected sustainability challenges, because they are pursuing learning opportunities in an inherently unpredictable and ever-changing landscape, namely the fields, forests, lakes, streams and human-dominated communities within which their research is embedded. Until now, the Biological Station has focused mainly on training scientists— biologists, ecologists, and climate scientists. However, the immersive quality of this learning environment clearly has applicability far beyond scientific fields. By broadening the types of students, faculty and research agendas hosted at the Station, and by partnering more effectively with initiatives already taking place on the Ann Arbor campus, the Biological Station is poised to provide a new generation of students wide breadths of understanding across and beyond their particular disciplines, empowering them to become better informed and more effective environmental professionals.

Project Description

The generation of students now at the University of Michigan faces a host of local, regional and global environmental and public health challenges. These threats resist solutions because they are immensely complex— scientifically, socially, and politically. The scientific challenges stem in part from the multi-dimensional nature of the threats, which pose problems for conventionally trained academic researchers in classic disciplines. Another barrier stems from limited interactions among scientists (natural and social), planners and non-academic stakeholders.

There is a lack of viable academic forums, institutions and centers where faculty and students can engage in interdisciplinary courses or research agendas to address these complex challenges. The University of Michigan Biological Station Initiative will provide opportunities to develop a unique, field-based research learning community bridging gaps between environmental sciences and a wide range of design, health, law and policy disciplines also working at the forefront of these challenges. Planned efforts hold the promise of dramatically reimagining and enhancing the way students are educated and engaged to tackle some of our planet’s most pressing environmental threats.

Transformational Impact

Targeting a minimum of 200 students annually, the Biological Station Initiative will engage both undergraduate and graduate students and will draw from a wide range of schools and colleges on campus. This goal more than doubles the station’s overall enrollment but is well within its physical capacity. As part of this proposal, the team is developing a more flexible academic calendar that would allow for course and research experiences of different durations. Because the U-M Biological Station is a national model among research stations for undergraduate and graduate student education, we will share our emerging best practices with other research stations, using the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS) and National Association of Marine Laboratories (NAML) as platforms for scaling up our contributions at a national and global level.

Project Team:

Knute J Nadelhoffer, Director, U-M Biological Station
Gregg Crane, Director, LSA Program in the Environment
Robert J. Denver, Chair, LSA Dept. Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology
Tim Dvonch, Associate Professor, School of Public Health
Sharon H. Haar, Chair, Architecture Program, Taubman College

Kim Hayes, Chair, Dept. of Civil & Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering
Michael Jordan, Director, LSA Center for Global & Intercultural Education
Johannes von Moltke, Chair, LSA Germanic Languages and Literature
Diarmaid O’Foighil, Chair, LSA Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Christopher J. Poulsen, Chair, LSA Dept. of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Joseph E Trumpey, Associate Professor, Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design
Donald R. Zak, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, School of Natural Resources & Environment