UMBS is renowned for its verdant forests, sparkling shores, and brilliant night skies. The habitat around the Station is home to an incredible array of plants and animals - including the rare Michigan Monkey Flower (Mimulus michiganensis) and Hungerford’s Crawling Water Beetle (Brychius hungerfordi). But beyond the exceptional flora and fauna, the Station is famous as host to another class of remarkable creatures: its illustrious and accomplished alumni.
Since 1909, UMBS has trained thousands of biologists, chemists, policy-makers, teachers, writers, conservationists, and entrepreneurs. Generations of interdisciplinary thinkers have found their niche at UMBS and gone on to change the world. Though alumni have chosen a wide variety of vocations, a common thread is the systems-level approach that enables them to see the world as a complex and interconnected organism – no matter if they view life’s puzzles through a scientific, artistic, or sociological lens.
So, what roads have UMBS alumni – equipped with field-based training and critical thinking skills – chosen to travel? Here are just a few.
Linda Greer (Algae and Biology of Parasites ‘74) is a global fellow at the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), the leading environmental NGO in China. She is a former Senior Scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and the interim director of UMBS from 2016-2017. Much of her work focuses on environmental toxicology, pollution, and the supply chain in China.
Greer attended UMBS for the first time in 1974, as an undergraduate at Tufts University. Family friend and Southeastern Massachusetts University Professor John Reardon, himself a UMBS alum, encouraged Greer to take field classes at the Station. That first summer she took Algae and Biology of Parasites. She was hooked. She returned the next summer to take two more classes.
Beginning in 1977, Greer and a team of other UMBS students began a series of integrated projects entitled Community Lakes Environmental Awareness and Research (CLEAR). From 1977-1981 the CLEAR group performed water quality assessments on various Northern Michigan lake watersheds. A key feature of the program was student involvement of local property owners and lake associations in environmental monitoring and measurement.
Project CLEAR’s legacy in northern Michigan is the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, which grew out of CLEAR’s initial organization. It also lives on at UMBS in the Project CLEAR Fellowship, initiated in 2014 by Greer and other project members, which supports students doing applied aquatic research with an outreach and education component.
“UMBS was the single most important influence on my life and career,” says Greer. “From the first summer, which introduced me to field studies and the many professors and researchers who modeled that career, to the class on Stressed Ecosystems that sparked my interest in pollution impacts, to Project CLEAR that introduced me to applying science to environmental decision makers… It inspired and led me each step on the way to my career development. I was certainly extremely lucky to have found it at the tender age of 19!”
Elin Betanzo (General Ecology ‘97) is the founder of Safe Water Engineering, a small consulting firm working to improve access to safe drinking water through engineering and policy consulting. She was previously a drinking water expert at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
As a guest student from Carnegie Mellon University, Betanzo took General Ecology at UMBS in spring 1997. She both needed an ecology class for her environment major, and was following through with a plan hatched years ago by she and high school friend Mona Hanna-Attisha to take a class together at UMBS. Betanzo, Hanna-Attisha, and a third high school friend roomed together in a triple cabin. Betanzo conducted research on spring peeper mating behavior.
“My time at UMBS gave me a different approach to school and working alongside colleagues,” says Betanzo. “At UMBS, we were working on our research and collecting spring peeper data at all hours of the day and night. Being immersed in a beautiful location and interacting so collaboratively with my peers opened my eyes to a whole new way to do science.”
Twenty-five years later, all three high school friends and UMBS alumni are still doing environmental work. Notably, Betanzo played a critical role in uncovering the Flint Water Crisis by encouraging Hanna-Attisha, a Flint pediatrician, to conduct the study that ultimately discovered elevated lead levels in children living in Flint. Hanna-Attisha’s 2020 Pettingill Endowed Lecture tells the full story.
Kiran Goyal (General Ecology ‘17) graduated from University of Michigan’s medical school in 2022, and will be a resident in vascular surgery at the Ohio State University.
A U-M Ecology & Evolutionary Biology major, Goyal took General Ecology in spring 2017, and returned in 2018 as a teaching assistant.
“UMBS has shaped my career plans and my passions. In my month as a student there, I learned more than I ever had in any semester-long class on campus, and frankly, in the first four months of medical school. It was at UMBS that I crossed paths with the professor who to this day (and for the foreseeable future) is my role model. He radically changed the way I think, solve problems, and how I see the world. From seeing the Northern Lights for the first time, to calling in resident barred owls, to determining that house spiders do seem to prefer larger over smaller prey, to sitting in the middle of a pristine lake and watching the sun set over the sky-painted water and the horizon, I can say with absolute certainty that no place I’ve been in my entire life has touched me like UMBS has.”