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Bob Elde and Bob Bruininks chat at the Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories at Itasca State Park.

Robert Elde, dean of the College of Biological Sciences, and President Bob Bruininks chat at the Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories at Itasca State Park.

A new habitat for biologists

Published on October 7, 2005

A new cabin for female students is taking shape at the University of Minnesota's Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories at Itasca State Park. The project is called "Habitat for Biologists," and the station is operated by the U's College of Biological Sciences.

"Nature continuously restores habitats for wildlife at Itasca but hasn't been as kind to human habitats," said Robert Elde, dean of the college, during groundbreaking ceremonies in July.

Elde hopes Habitat for Biologists will raise awareness about the value of Itasca.

"Itasca Biological Station is an exquisitely beautiful living laboratory and classroom that showcases Minnesota's best natural features," he said. "It is truly one of the University's hidden treasures."

The field station is currently used in the summer for field biology classes; faculty research; Nature of Life, an orientation program for incoming freshmen in the College of Biological Sciences; orientations for graduate programs; and the Science Education Program for Greater Minnesota (SEPGM) to recruit, train, and retain science teachers for regional school districts. This school year is the third for SEPGM, which has two components: introducing undergraduate interns to teaching as a profession and honing the skills of current biology/science teachers. So far, the number of interns has grown from 6 to 14 and the number of teachers from 10 to 15, says SEPGM coordinator Ken Jeddeloh.

Biology is, of course, an exciting field, but perhaps never more so than the day the teachers travelled to Camp Ripley with Medical School professor Paul Iaizzo and pulled a hibernating bear from her den. The group took blood and hair samples, weighed the bear, and did everything else that one does when studying how a bear makes it through the winter in a state that's not quite true hibernation. Topics of other special presentations at Itasca include insects, cell structure, and brain biology. The interns, who spend one fall semester in the program, are required to have some laboratory research experience by the time they enroll. But they don't just listen and watch--they help the teachers keep current with developments in science. As University undergraduates, they hear the latest news in lectures and pass it along to the teachers. Also, many interns are American Indians, and SEPGM has invited tribal elders to attend meetings and lend a cultural context to teaching. Interns and teachers come from seven school districts--Bagley, Bemidji, Fergus Falls, Grand Rapids, Park Rapids, Sebeka, and Perham.

At Itasca, Elde hopes ultimately to raise funds to build a new complex with an auditorium, meeting rooms, and state-of-the-art laboratories. The college raised $50,000 from alumni and friends to build the first cabin. John Tester, professor emeritus of ecology, is leading a campaign to raise $150,000 to restore a three-bedroom log cabin built in 1911. There are 34 cabins and 12 laboratories and classrooms at the field station.

"Other universities operate field stations such as this on a much larger scale, using them for a broad spectrum of research, education, outreach, and professional development programs," said Elde. "Itasca has the potential to be that kind of a resource for the University."

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