Following a number of 95 degree days, the forests around UMBS seemed to burst into life overnight, becoming the shocking shade of green that now welcomes our spring and summer field season. Education and research teams are beginning their work and my evening walks are once again filled with the voices of groups prepping field scouting trips, getting research facilities up and running, and figuring out who is showing up when.
As the temperatures cooled we welcomed 61 new undergraduate students to the station – our first in-person spring semester since 2019. While the energy and striking forest phenology are pretty normal events at this time of year, our student arrival and spring semester will look a little different to returning community members. We have been working to decrease barriers to participation and increase inclusivity at the station – recently through a more structured orientation and adjusted course length.
Saturday marked the start of spring orientation, and as students arrived in camp, the nervous excitement was palpable. We were excited and nervous, too! With an eye toward equity and resource-sharing, we debuted a more robust student orientation, led by Academic Programs Manager Alicia Farmer. Orientation now spans two days and is focused on creating community and answering questions students may not want (or know they need) to ask – such as, “how do I pee in the woods?” “How do I set a mouse trap?” “What do I do if I get turned around in the field?” “Do I always need to take a flashlight?” “What do I need to bring when I go on a hike?” Empowering students with the information they need to be successful frees them up to focus on learning and engaging with the community.
We’ve also adjusted our term lengths in order to lessen barriers and increase the number of students who are able to experience UMBS. We reduced course credit hours in accordance with Ann Arbor campus requirements, making it easier for students to fit classes into their degree programs, graduate on time, and receive Financial Aid. We shortened the duration of our spring and summer terms from 5-8 weeks to 4. This makes UMBS less expensive and allows students who may need to uphold family responsibilities or summer jobs to engage in our programming. Next summer, we hope to add courses that target students after their first and second year in college in order to get them “hooked” on a career in science. If we can upgrade our facilities, we could even expand our programming into the fall and winter terms! That’s the goal: more students engaging with UMBS means more wonder, more discovery, and more minds working toward solutions to the environmental crises of our time.
As always, we will continue to track how programmatic changes reduce barriers and increase inclusivity by recording student enrollment, demographics, and outcomes. A few things are different, but the strengths of UMBS remain firm. Like the thousands of alumni before them, this year’s students will be learning and asking questions about ecology, ethnobotany, agroecology, mammals, microbes, fishes, insects, plants and evolution – experiences that will transform how they see and explore the world.
Dr. Aimée Classen