Winter is a season of rest and introspection. At the Biological Station in Pellston, Resident Biologist Adam Schubel manages the UNESCO Obtawaing Biosphere Region Project and collaborates with a group of U-M School for Environment and Sustainability students to develop a stewardship plan for UMBS's managed land. For the most part, life is quiet on Douglas Lake aside from the soft patter of snow and the occasional drumming of woodpeckers.

A picturesque, snowy Michigan winter has been elusive this year. Even so, this season is a well-known time to rest, reflect on the past, and imagine the coming future. Some members of the Biological Station community and staff are using this time of introspection to plan for the field and educational season ahead, with exciting new developments in store. Read on for news about how UMBS’s rich history is intersecting with a bright future for students and researchers.

A welcoming place for all

For over a century, UMBS has hummed with activity. The Station is a hub of research on precipitation chemistry, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, piping plover recovery, plant-animal interactions, and more topics than can be listed. It’s a world-class research and educational facility where thousands of students have learned about complex ecological interactions. The Station is also a living-learning-research community, a place to collaboratively explore the natural world, forge life-long relationships, and connect with northern Michigan environments. As Schubel puts it, “This place is easy to fall in love with. It’s rare and special.”

Staff and faculty are constantly striving to improve everyone’s experience of UMBS. That’s obvious in the diversity of newer classes that expand how we explore the northern MI ecosystems. Recent additions such as pharmaceutical design, and an ecological molecular genetics courses integrate new scientific tools into student discovery. The Great Lakes Arts, Cultures, and Environments (GLACE) Program, an interdisciplinary humanities program, that challenges students to build connections across humanities and scientific course material is offered in the summer semester.

The desire to increase educational impact has been the focus of a 5-year organized evaluation UMBS of undergraduate programs. Not surprisingly, after taking UMBS courses a students’ sense of belonging in the sciences increases. Data from this study has already been used to implement changes, such as the recruitment of more diverse faculty, expansion of the station orientation program and shifts in semester length. Students are excited -as courses are already filling up for spring and summer 2023– with students on the wait list.    

Infrastructural changes to enhance the living-learning environment

Some of the biggest—and most exciting—changes are the future updates to Biological Station infrastructure. While the residential and learning spaces at UMBS are much loved, they need renovation to improve accessibility and create year-round opportunity. Changes will include updated cabins with attached bathrooms, gender neutral facilities, and renovated lab and classroom spaces. There are hopes that infrastructural improvements can increase interactions and collaborations among Station residents, regardless of their disciplines or experience levels.

Currently, residential experiences shut down at UMBS in the winter, but the new plans will winterize campus. That’s great news for instructors and researchers, such as Dr. Karen Alofs, a U-M assistant professor of ecosystem science and management who co-teaches Michigan Fishes in Changing Environments. It’s a challenge to teach the field components of her classes downstate, where a viable lake might be a 45-minute drive away. Having access to UMBS and plentiful freshwater would enhance the opportunities she’s able to provide students. 

“I could imagine bringing a class out there in the winter session and doing ice fishing, for example, or just being able to highlight winter habitats with field trips and immersions,” she says.

For scholars who use biological collections are also excited by the updates. Dr. Jessica Light, an alumnus and visiting associate professor from Texas A&M University who teaches Field Mammalogy was excited that some of the Biological Station’s collections could find a new, climate-controlled home. Better collection conditions would enhance her both her class and research program.  

U-M Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Assistant Professor Dr. André Green II also dreams of expanding the ways we think of using Biological Stations by creating opportunity to conduct state-of-the-art techniques in the field. He praises UMBS for providing the equipment to develop Eco-Evo-Devo, his summer course that introduces students to molecular biology by using monarch butterflies as a study system. In summer 2022, his students gathered monarch eggs and injected CRISPR components to modify their genome. He says that continuing to expand UMBS facilities and equipment would attract a new generation of scholars who intersect with the environment, such as biomedical researchers.

A legacy continues

Regardless of the changes in store for the Biological Station, some things will remain the same: world class research and discovery, the emphasis on experiential learning and the dedication of scientists and staff. And everyone can agree on maintaining the sense of community.

Francie Cuthbert is UMBS legend. She started her tenure at the Biological Station around age 5 as a “camp kid” and eventually became the Biology of Birds instructor, which she calls “the opportunity of a lifetime.” Cuthbert is happy to hear about infrastructural updates. However, one thing she doesn’t expect to change is the deep sense of community that folks experience, whether they’re at UMBS for a few weeks or a full summer.

Another thing that won’t change: Karie Slavik’s philosophy as associate director. She wants the Biological Station to provide a safe, but challenging, experience for all students. “That way they can explore things they wouldn’t necessarily explore, whether its science or experiences related to their own personal growth and social well-being,” she says.   

So, dream a little dream of UMBS this winter. Whether you value the Biological Station for its dedication to discovery, its preservation of northern Michigan ecosystems, or its living-learning environment, know that the changes ahead will improve the opportunities available for future scholars.