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U-M Biological Station: Nurturing Ecologists in Nature

Cody Ladd’s (B.S. 2019) first summer studying at the Biological Station made such an impact, it convinced him to transfer to the University of Michigan. His second helped him grow as a scientist—and resulted in a marriage proposal.
by Kristen Loszewski
The Bio Station was Brian Hazlett and Cathy Bach's home away from home for more than 25 summers.

Cathy Bach (M.S. 1976; Ph.D. ’79), professor emeritus of biology at Eastern Michigan University, and her husband Brian Hazlett, LSA professor emeritus of zoology, three-term head of the former ecology and evolutionary biology department at U-M, and two-time interim director of the University of Michigan Biological Station, spent their careers teaching, conducting research, and mentoring students in the areas of ecology and behavior. Now, they’re creating unique opportunities for undergraduates like Cody Ladd to spend a summer at UMBS conducting an individual research project of their own design through the Cathy Bach and Brian Hazlett Student Research Fund.

A Connection to Place

Cathy Bach knows how powerful a summer at the U-M Biological Station can be.

“I first went to the bio station as a grad student in 1974, and I left thinking, ‘If I could choose anything I want to do with my life, I want it to be to teach at a place like this,’” she says. “Being out in the field surrounded by others who are enthused to be there and passionate about what they’re studying is a really fantastic learning experience. You just get completely immersed in what you’re doing.”

UMBS occupies a special place in the hearts of many who have been lucky enough to study in its spectacular setting nestled in the forest along the south shore of pristine Douglas Lake. Situated near the tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, twenty minutes south of the Mackinac Bridge, the bio station of today juxtaposes rustic, hundred-year-old student cabins with modern laboratories, lecture halls, and a 10,000 volume library. At the height of the summer term it becomes a tight knit community bustling with nearly three hundred students, researchers, and faculty, all living, sharing meals, and working together.

It took ten years for Cathy to return but, when she finally got the opportunity to teach there in 1984, summers at the bio station quickly became a way of life for her family. Cathy and Brian spent at least 25 summers at the bio station in a variety of different and influential roles. In addition to teaching, Cathy mentored students in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, and conducted NSF-sponsored field research.

As interim director, Brian (who also taught courses in animal behavior and mentored REU students over many summers) was instrumental in establishing the bio station’s spring term, enabling a greater number of students to engage directly in hands-on, field-based science every year. As professors, they both brought their graduate students to the station to conduct research.

Brian notes, “Field research at the University of Michigan Biological Station provides an unmatched opportunity to study organisms in their own environment.”

Summers at UMBS are both rigorous and restorative, mixing engrossing scientific exploration and discovery with the joy and camaraderie of an idyllic summer camp, and Cathy and Brian have a lifetime of fond memories. Children of staff and faculty members are an intrinsic part of the bio station community. Cathy and Brian’s son, Allan, spent every summer there from the time he was five, exploring its 10,000 wild acres with the other kids. When he was 15, he started working in the dining hall kitchen, and later joined the station’s work crew.

“UMBS is a very special place for our family—from the people, to the setting, to the work. Most of my best friends are bio station people,” says Cathy. 

“We’d spend the whole day with students in the field, then go for a late afternoon swim, or a sail—with an eagle soaring over the lake—then have these amazing and intense conversations over dinner with people who were excited about their research and about biology in many of the same ways we were. That would be a perfect day.” She adds, “Both Brian and I enjoy sailing, and we took the sailboat my father built with us every summer. We did a lot of sailing. One year, I even learned how to wind surf on Douglas Lake.”

Not One, But Two Life-Changing Summers

Cody Ladd first attended UMBS in summer 2017 as a Kalamazoo Valley Community College (KVCC) student. He fell in love with the bio station, enjoying his time so much that he decided to transfer to U-M. Cody arrived in Ann Arbor for the winter 2018 semester. He hoped to return to UMBS to conduct individual research the following summer, and worked long hours over the next several months to design the project. He wanted to take one class instead of two, with his individual research taking the place of the second class, which matched Cathy and Brian’s vision for their scholarship and won him the Bach/Hazlett Fund’s first award.

Cody and Miriam measuring the width of a swale, a low tract of marshy land, at their research site at Pointe Aux Chenes

Given the complexity of the project, he invited a peer he’d known at KVCC, Miriam Llamas, to spend the summer at UMBS as his research assistant. Cody and Miriam’s project, Floral and Soil Succession About Linear Dune Ecosystems, correlated changes in the plant community with individual soil nutrient concentrations over time along Michigan dune ecosystems. Their results took the form of a massive table with hundreds of correlations, the majority of them not significant . . . but a couple were, enough for Cody and Miriam to deem the study a great success.

Having attended UMBS two summers in a row, Cody is in the unique position to compare the experiences.

“Taking two classes is, of course, a treat at UMBS. Taking one course and completing a research project, on the other hand, was an altogether different and incredibly rewarding experience for me,” he considers. “With one class, I was still able to meet people, make friends, and experience class field trips. The classes are fantastic and a great way to learn concepts in biology, while my research project allowed me to delve into an interesting topic in great detail.” 

“The challenge of planning, scheduling field days during the summer, pacing the research project, and ensuring, logistically, that fieldwork is efficiently completed is an often overlooked skill that is actually incredibly important,” Cody says about field research, a point that supports Cathy and Brian’s interest in training students how to be scientists.

Cody is now pursuing a masters degree in ecology at Eastern Michigan University, with plans to teach at the college level. Like Cody, Miriam’s first summer at UMBS encouraged her to transfer to the University of Michigan, where she’s now finishing her bachelors degree in biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience.

Miriam Llamas and Cody Ladd

The bio station is a special place for Cody and Miriam in another way: They fell in love not only with field research and U-M at UMBS, but also with each other. In the dunes of northern Michigan, and on the sandy shore of Douglas Lake, a romance developed. They were engaged this summer (during a visit to UMBS, naturally) and are planning a 2021 wedding.

“The opportunity to do research at UMBS grants students experiences that not only increase their skills in science, but also a beautiful summer in nature filled with friendship and fun,” says Cody. “Without the support from Cathy Bach and Brian Hazlett for this project, I would not be where I am today—it was pivotal in my growth as a student of biology and in the trajectory of my life.”

Support what you love

Have fond memories of your time at the bio station? Excited about encouraging talented undergrads to become scientists? 

You are invited to support experiential learning experiences for undergraduates in ecology or behavior field research by contributing to the Cathy Bach and Brian Hazlett Student Research Fund

It’s easy to make a gift.

The Bach/Hazlett Fund is an endowed fund, which provides funding for undergraduate students with demonstrated merit to conduct independent research with a faculty member on a topic in ecology or behavior while concurrently enrolled in one summer session field class at UMBS.


Release Date: 11/06/2019
Category: Support LSA
Tags: LSA; UMBS; Stories of Impact; Victors; Student Impact; Faculty Giving