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March 16, 2005 - Pierce Cedar Creek Institute, a Biological Field Station located south of Hastings in Barry County, recently awarded twelve grants through the Undergraduate Research Grants for the Environment (URGE) program. Two of the grant awards were given to proposals submitted by Aquinas students.

Junior David Baylis, a geography major, and Lareina Van Strien, a sophomore majoring in biology and environmental studies, will conduct a ten-week study to assess the impact an adjacent gravel road has on aquatic insect habitats nearby. Meanwhile, juniors Melissa Conklin and Meghan Broderick, both chemistry majors, plan to study the water quality of Brewster Lake, located on the Institute's property

The URGE program provides a $3,000 stipend for students conducting summer research at the Institute, along with up to a $3,000 facility mentor stipend that can be used for equipment purchases, general expenses, travel, or training needed for conducting the research project. Additionally, each grant award allows for up to $4,000 in room and board expenses for the student and faculty mentor. Students will begin arriving at the Institute in early May and will be staying through August.

Twelve grants were funded the first year, with approximately $75,000 in student and faculty stipends awarded. Another $48,000 in housing and meal expenses will be provided to summer researchers

Bayliss and Van Strien will collect, analyze, classify and photo reference the macro invertebrate (aquatic insects) species from six locations within the field site multiple times. Each sampling site will also be evaluated using a standardized approach using species diversity and abundance to reveal the site's ecological condition. It's hoped the testing will help determine what impact, if any, gravel roads have on the quality of aquatic habitat. According to their grant proposal, the students hope to gain experience from this project so they can apply it to their school work and apply it to their future careers. The students were recommended to the program by Biology Professor Dr. Robb Bajema, who will oversee and assist with the project.

Conklin and Broderick will spend the summer collecting samples and analyzing the level of alkalinity, phosphates, nitrates, conductivity and dissolved oxygen in the water flowing through Pierce Cedar Creek Institute. According to Conklin, "Knowing and understanding the chemical levels of water in the area is extremely vital to keep plants and animals healthy." These chemical levels can be the first signs of problems in the environment. Due to the complexity of equipment that is needed for this study the students will collect the samples at Pierce Cedar Creek Institute and study the samples at Aquinas' labs. The students are supported by Dr. Elizabeth Jensen, a chemistry professor at Aquinas.

The Biological Field Station is made up of a consortium of eleven Michigan colleges and universities which includes: Albion College, Alma College, Aquinas College, Calvin College, Central Michigan University, Cornerstone University, Ferris State University, Grand Valley State University, Hope College, Olivet College, and Western Michigan University. An advisory board made up of two representatives from each school oversees the consortium.

Pierce Cedar Creek Institute is a four-year-old non-profit organization and is located on 661 acres of land that features forest, wetlands, upland forest and fields, a lake, and a stream. The previous owner of the majority of the property, naturalist Dr. H. Lewis Batts, protected the land from development or degradation, and most of it has remained untouched for the past 50 years. Pierce Cedar Creek Institute maintains the property as a preserve under an easement granted by Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy with a mission, "to protect and enhance quality of life through ecological education, research, and stewardship of the natural world."

The Institute is funded through a foundation created by Bill and Jessie Pierce in 1988. Although Bill and Jessie passed away in 1998, just as ground was being broken, the Institute's Board of Trustees and staff are thrilled to see their original dream become a reality through a program such as URGE.

"In the four short years the Institute has been open, we have begun to build a top notch community outreach program that provides visitors the opportunity to experience and learn from nature through a variety of classes, workshops, conferences and hikes," said Michelle Skedgell, executive director of the Institute. "We are very excited to see the biological field station program begin to take off with the creation of the partnership with local colleges and universities. Together, I believe we will be creating a very unique learning experience for students and faculty. From providing research opportunities to creating field courses to be offered at the Institute, we want students to see Pierce Cedar Creek Institute as an extension of their current campus," she added.

Although this is the first year that URGE grants were awarded, this is not the first year that student research was conducted. Over the past three summers, students from Alma, Central, Grand Valley, Albion, and Michigan State University conducted research projects such as a study on White-tailed deer, Ovenbirds, and freshwater turtles. In the past, students were provided only the use of the facilities along with a small equipment grant. This is the first time that students will receive a stipend.

"We recognize the financial burdens that are placed on college students and that they need to work during the summer to save money for tuition. By providing them with a grant, hopefully it will provide the opportunity for more students to participate in the program," say Skedgell. "Their involvement in the program will not only be beneficial to their undergraduate studies, but we also hope that it will help them in their graduate studies or in their careers."

Consortium members can also use the Institute's facilities and property for a variety of activities from one-day field trips to weeklong courses with on-campus housing options. Housing is available. The Institute plans to expand undergraduate opportunities next summer by offering curriculum of courses to be conducted either in whole or part at the Institute.

For more about Pierce Cedar Creek Institute visit Student wishing to learn more about the URGE program should contact their professors and/or advisors.