The core mission of the University of Michigan Biological Station is to advance environmental field research, engage students in scientific discovery using ecosystems and their organismal constituents as objects of study, and provide information needed to better understand and sustain natural systems at local through global scales.
This is our vision for the University of Michigan Biological Station (UMBS) as we imagine it to be in 2034. It was developed in a workshop convened on August 17, 2014. Participants were self-selected from stakeholder groups including undergraduate students, graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, staff members, teaching faculty, senior researchers, UMBS-based research scientists, the UMBS Executive Committee, the UMBS Advisory Board, and local environmental stewardship groups including the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, the Douglas Lake Improvement Association, the Burt Lake Preservation Association, and the Little Traverse Conservancy. Our vision statement was reviewed, revised, and improved with comments and editorial suggestions by workshop participants. We intend it to be an inspirational, strategically sound, and realistic document aligned with our mission that will guide our program planning and development activities into the coming decades. It is aligned with the Biological Station’s mission statement and with the mission statement of the University of Michigan.
I. 2034 Vision
The University of Michigan Biological Station (UMBS) is a year-round, internationallyrenowned field station and research reserve located in a forested, water-rich region in theheart of the world’s largest freshwater system, the Great Lakes Basin. It hosts unrivaledprograms of field-based scientific research, education, and outreach that together enhanceour understanding of human-environment interactions at local through global scales. Itserves as an international model for applying the knowledge gained from interdisciplinaryfield studies to the challenges faced by local communities, our region, and the world in an ageof climate change and human development pressures.
Our successes derive from student learning experiences characterized by direct engagement with a world-class research faculty. Our diverse student body, the station’s resident research scientists, and guest investigators from across the world all work side-by-side in a vibrant, highly interactive, living-learning community. Our carbon- and waste-neutral campus infrastructure serves as a world-class example of how human-built environments can enhance surrounding natural systems.
II. Year-Round Programs
Our education and research programs operate year-round and are closely linked by coursework centered on field-based research. Spring (May) and Summer Term (June-August) courses attract a diverse body of 200 students who work in small, research-based classes alongside research-active faculty members recruited from U-M and research institutions worldwide. September through April science and education programs are led by eight UMBS-based research faculty members. Our resident science faculty members engage in and lead research projects central to our year-round programs. They also work with members of our teaching faculty to incorporate ongoing field research projects into the undergraduate and graduate curriculum.
Our year-round programs are enhanced by an endowed visiting scientist program that attracts accomplished researchers to the station for up to a year of sabbatical leave from their home institutions, providing them with office and laboratory space and access to the station’s databases and technological resources. We host artists-in-residence who interact with our research and education programs to strengthen linkages between field sciences and the humanities and to translate our research results and their applications to a broader public. Fall and winter programming includes semester-long courses, short technical courses and workshops, professional society meetings, and teacher training workshops directed by collaborators from the U-M School of Education or other units with “K to gray” educational missions. Our expanded year-round activities provide extensive opportunities to engage partner organizations in our region, such as local conservancies, lake associations, and school districts in mutually beneficial environmental stewardship activities and science education programs. These increased activities have expanded income streams for funding new staff positions responsible for managing our expanded outreach programs.
III. Interdisciplinary Research
Our interdisciplinary research in the temperate-boreal transition zone now provides the best high-resolution picture of climate change-induced changes in North America. This research has leveraged our field station’s valuable and unique long-term environmental records collected across the region over the past 125 years. UMBS is an international leader among field stations in conducting regionally and globally important field research on how climate change is altering natural and managed ecosystems, and how these alterations are in turn affecting the capacity of ecosystems to sustain biodiversity, the economy, and the quality of human life. Our long-term research has resulted in thousands of widely disseminated, highly cited publications.
This body of research now informs local and regional land and water resource management practices and has led to increased, stable funding from federal science agencies, along with greater engagement of private donors in supporting our high-impact programs. UMBS is now a central node of multiple regional and global-scale research networks focused on terrestrial, aquatic and atmospheric research. By leveraging support from university partners, donors, and foundations, UMBS has expanded its ability to translate research at the station into tangible strategies for addressing the environmental challenges that are exacerbated by climate change and human development pressures. This expansion has fostered new interdisciplinary courses and has strengthened our interactions with environmental stewardship organizations. Our field station is nationally and internationally recognized as a model for applying basic environmental research to solve problems associated with land use practices, resource extraction, and climate change.
IV. Course Offerings
We offer a range of courses designed to match the needs of undergraduate and graduate students who are preparing to help society meet the challenges of a changing world. The relevance of our courses to students’ intellectual development and academic needs and the successful incorporation of environmental research into university-level courses have made UMBS the gold standard of engaged science pedagogy. Our students use sophisticated instrumentation and field-portable digital tools to gather and interrogate data from across the Great Lakes Basin. Together, our core courses focus on atmospheric, hydrologic, geologic and terrestrial processes, and on human activities affecting the distributions and behaviors of organisms.
Moreover, our curriculum now reaches beyond the natural sciences to include social sciences, policy studies, humanities, engineering, and the arts. These courses help translate our research into a better and more accessible understanding of human relations to the natural world. Students use mathematical modeling, computer simulations, and geographic information technologies to apply information they collect to make predictions under alternative climate and management scenarios. They engage local and regional communities by communicating research findings at venues beyond our station’s field campus. Curricula are coordinated with field stations across the United States and with partnering field stations in other countries. We now partner with local farmers and communities to link specific courses and internship programs to a thriving community supported agriculture (CSA) system that provides a large amount of the food served in our dining facilities.
V. Student and Faculty Diversity
Since the station’s inception in 1909, more women than men consistently have populated our student ranks. By contrast, our faculty and senior researcher population was always mostly male. We are pleased to have achieved gender equity across our faculty and senior researcher ranks. Our faculty members now teach and work with a student body that is broadly representative of the U.S. population in terms of ethnicity, race, gender identification, geographic location, experience, culture, and socioeconomic background. In addition, our international reputation and partnerships with other field stations help attract considerable numbers of students from outside the United States. The diversity of our undergraduate and graduate student population results in part from the removal of financial barriers to student enrollment, enhanced recruitment efforts targeting traditionally underrepresented students, and interdisciplinary course offerings that are
highly relevant to students’ various academic program requirements.
Our challenge now is to diversify our faculty and senior researcher ranks to the level achieved by our student population. We now compete successfully in recruiting from the diverse pool of doctoral recipients entering academia and have redoubled our efforts to continue diversifying our teaching faculty and senior research community. We provide opportunities for promising new faculty of all backgrounds to engage in productive interdisciplinary research and teaching by providing world-class analytical tools and laboratories, supportive collaborators, access to diverse habitats and ecosystems, rich historical and geographic data sets, and a family-friendly field campus. We anticipate that the diversity of our faculty will soon match the diversity of our student body.
VI. Sustainable Carbon- and Waste-Neutral Campus
The UMBS “green” campus is a global example of how a temperate-zone community has developed its housing, laboratories, public spaces, transportation, dining operations, and energy systems to minimize its contributions to climate change. Thanks to a large solar installation, we now generate annually more electricity than we consume. We use income realized from a net-metering contract with our utility to purchase off-site wind energy during periods of peak demand. Geothermal wells supply much of the heating and cooling needs of our buildings. Our dining facilities locally source or grow fifty percent of all food consumed on campus. Waste from the dining facility is recycled, composted, or burned as a source of energy. We have reduced our water use considerably by collecting rainwater for gardening and using gray water for toilet flushing. All campus vehicles are electric or hydrogen fueled, a charging station is available on site, and transportation to and from UMBS is offset through carbon credits. Recently constructed and refurbished buildings are energy efficient, are aesthetically appealing, and function to complement our natural surroundings.
Our campus is a showcase for carbon-neutral operations and is a model of an architectural-landscape system that enhances human living and learning while benefiting the surrounding ecosystems. Importantly, developing a sustainable campus has advanced our research and education mission. Our campus now attracts students, teaching faculty, researchers, and private-sector stakeholders who are interested in developing sustainable technologies and promoting more livable human communities.
VII. Community Engagement
Central to the station’s mission is field-based research and education at the university level; we recognize the corollary responsibility to disseminate our research to local, regional, and global audiences. To strengthen our engagement with the broader public, especially in the areas of environmental stewardship and science education, UMBS has launched a bold outreach effort; we have collaborated with local education districts, conservation groups, and the state of Michigan to develop an off-site Great Lakes Regional Science and Education Center. This center is easily accessible from both the station’s campus and I-75 and provides an overlook of the Burt and Douglas Lake areas from a high bluff. The outreach center serves as an interactive visiting museum and a point of direct connection between our field station’s program endeavors and the general public. Importantly, the center highlights the work of organizations dedicated to understanding and protecting the human and natural systems of the region, including the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, the Little Traverse Conservancy, and the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, among others. The Center provides year-round programs for K-12 students and adults using data, knowledge, and research products (e.g., films, specimens, maps) from UMBS, regional stewardship organizations, tribal organizations, planning boards, and schools to provide science and environmental education experiences to members of the general public.
VIII. Recognition of Achievement
The results of UMBS programs are clearly evident in ways that neighboring communities now manage their resources and focus their planning efforts to complement ecological processes and to address environmental changes in the region. This growing awareness is evident in local school programs, planning and zoning regulations, land use practices, and management of invasive species.
An international audience of faculty and students recognizes the Biological Station’s high-quality programs. As such, there is strong competition among researchers and students worldwide to study and conduct on-site research. Our scientific contributions have led to increased public and private sector funding for large-scale research and teaching. Our faculty and students present their research at regional, national, and international conferences, and our summary reports receive broad media coverage. In addition, UMBS has created its own prestigious national award for recognizing excellence in translating science to the public.