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The world is my classroom; valuable learning experiences await community college students taking classes at far-flung field stations.

Over the last decade, several community colleges have acquired field stations--remote locations where scientific research or education is conducted in a natural setting. Typically, biology, geology or botany classes would be held, though, sometimes colleges offer other types of classes there, such as nature drawing, writing or photography.

To date, no association exists that allows those who run field stations at community colleges to share information. But a little digging turns up several projects run by two-year colleges.

Here is a sampling of the field stations out there:

* "Estacion del Mar Cortes" field station

Baja California, Mexico

Run by Glendale

Community College

This field station has been operating for 25 years at Bahia de Los Angeles, a tiny town on the shore of the Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California. The bay is known for its unusual biodiversity due to a large ocean trench offshore that produces a prodigious amount of plankton, feeding creatures as large as whales.

The beginnings of the field station date back to 1974, only a year after the first paved transpeninsular highway was completed to run the entire length of the Baja peninsula. A group of Glendale Community College marine biology students from Southern California visited the tiny village, fell in love with the area, and returned for six subsequent summers to learn more about its marine biology and unique ecology.

The college rented a house on the beach to accommodate the students and began collecting field equipment. In 1981, the college officially opened the "Estacion del Mar Cortes" field station and launched its Baja California Field Studies Program.

"Student trip fees have paid about 80 percent of all costs associated with the station," it's director, Jose Mercade, said. "The district provides instructors' salaries, a small equipment maintenance fund, most transportation fees and insurance. This has allowed the program to keep its fees very low, compared to other field programs in Baja."

Students pay about $350 a week to participate and are driven down in college-owned vans. Between 100 and 150 students participate each year. Students sleep in cots on the beach in front of the field station, which includes classrooms, a kitchen and dining hall.

Mercade said that 27 different courses have been taught since the program began in 1974, including Spanish, marine biology, ecology, oceanography, geology, and geography, psychology, physical education, writing, history, anthropology, health education, first aid, philosophy and humanities.

The program has survived and thrived despite the obstacles associated with operating in a foreign country for 34 years, due to strong support from the college's trustees, faculty members, administration and students.

Three years ago, the owner of the leased beachfront field station gave the college the opportunity to buy it, Mercade said. Instead, the board of trustees decided to buy a site outside of town and build a larger facility to increase programs there, which required creating a non-profit civil association in Mexico.

The Glendale College Foundation lent the $419,000 needed to acquire the land and build the new project, to be paid back by the district over several years. The station is slated to be completed by January 2009.

"The college is seeking other community colleges in particular, and colleges and universities in general, to use the facilities for their own programs or for joint programs with Glendale College ," Mercade said.

* Muller Conservation Field Station on Honeoye Lake

Canandaigua, N.Y.

Run by Finger Lakes

Community College

In 1999, Florence Muller donated 50 acres with a house on Honeoye Lake, in upstate New York, to Finger Lakes Community College. The following year, she donated 700 surrounding acres of wetlands to the Nature Conservancy.

The college's field station is located near the southern end of the glacial Honeoye Lake, next to a rare type of wetland with predominantly silver maple, red ash, black willow and swamp white oak trees. Nearby are forests of sugar maple, oak, beech, basswood, black cherry and pignut hickory trees.

Students have an opportunity to study wetland ecology, conservation and biodiversity, walleye fish and black bears. The college uses the first floor of the former Muller home as a classroom and laboratory. The second floor is a conference and meeting space.

The college won a strategic planning grant from the National Science Foundation in 2006 for $20,000 to develop planning at the site.

A Fish Culture and Aquatic Research Center was built in 2003. Students learn how to run a fish farm, including collecting, spawning, raising and stocking walleye.

* High Sierra Institute at Baker Station

Sonora, Calif.

Run by Yosemite

Community College District

This institute offers 14 classes this summer at Baker Station, an historic field station owned by the U.S. Forest Service in the Stanislaus National Forest in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

"In 2000, I was approached by a colleague at a different college about these Forest Service buildings that were going to be destroyed," said Dimitri Keriotis, an English professor at Modesto Junior College who's also the coordinator for the institute. "They didn't have any use for these buildings, and they were happy to have us take over the use of them. It was crazy how it fell into our laps."

The college district has allocated a budget of about $46,000 for the summertime institute at the 2.5 acre complex, which is at an altitude of 6,200 feet and surrounded by 200,000 acres of national forest. It's located about a 75-minute drive from the district's closest campus.

The first class was offered in 2001. Students can take courses in biology, geology, fishing and fishery biology, yoga, backpacking, restorative land management, wildflowers, creative writing, photography and more.

Keriotis said the ability to study nature writing in a scenic mountain setting is especially useful for students.

"If I'm teaching a passage from John Muir's My First Summer In the Sierra, I can say 'Look around us,' and that inspires them," Keriotis said. "Nature writing is based on sensory detail. If we're writing about water, we can walk across the street and sit in the upper reaches of the Stanislaus River."

The station was built in 1930 as a highway maintenance station for Caltrans, the California state highway agency. The agency later gave the station to the Forest Service, which was considering demolishing the buildings until the partnership with the Yosemite college district was formed.

The college district used a $300,000 grant from the state's Forest Service in 2002 to improve the station and make repairs.

Cabins provide rustic lodging for 18 students, while 15 more students can pitch their own tents and camp out.

* A.L. Mickelson Field Station

Cody, Wyo.

Run by Northwest College

This field station is located 55 miles from Yellowstone National Park, in the Absaroka Mountain Range and the Shoshone National Forest. It sits on 36 acres that is part of an original 60-acre tract homesteaded at the turn of the century by the John Prante family.

The Northwest College Foundation bought 14 acres of the site in 1982 and the main buildings were funded partly by the Wyoming Recreation Commission. The station is named for its founder, a late professor emeritus in the college's botany department. It is about 50 miles from the college's main campus.

Wildlife habitat includes elk, sheep, goat, moose, deer, grizzly and black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, coyote, wolf and a variety of birds. The region, at an elevation of 7,500 feet, is also of high geological interest and a Native American historical site.

The college has a two-story lodge building with classroom and meeting space, a rooftop deck, dining room and three cabin buildings that can sleep as many as 72 people.

RELATED ARTICLE: Over faculty protests, Calif. college to sell field station.


This will be the last summer for the Orange Coast College field station at Rabbit Island, if trustees for the foundation at the California college are able to successfully sell it.

The picturesque island off the coast of British Columbia was donated in 2003 to the college's Sailing and Seamanship Center by a Southern California yachtsman who had initially purchased it as a family retreat.

Several faculty members had worked hard over the last several years to launch a successful field research program on the craggy, pristine forested island, bringing students to study local flora and fauna, marine biology, ecology, sailing and photography.

The National Science Foundation awarded the college a $25,000 planning grant earlier this year to help determine the island's fate.

"We've only had the island four years, and a lot of time was spent repairing and fixing the island, making it livable and comfortable, and encouraging teachers to go up there," said marine biology Professor Dennis Kelly, one of the main advocates for keeping the property. "We think we've done extremely well."

However, trustees with the college's foundation, which owns the property, said the island is too far away and has become too costly to operate. Instead, the land will be sold and the money used for improvements to the college's popular sailing center in Newport Beach.

Trustees voted 15-1 in March to sell the island, saying they regretted the decision but had no choice. Faculty members and student supporters had hoped that a feasibility advisory team of national experts, which visited the campus earlier this year, would support their continued use of the property as a field station.

However the team agreed that the island should be sold because of its inaccessibility. Because the island is in a foreign country, the field station would not be eligible for National Science Foundation and other grants that could have helped with its maintenance, the team reported. Additionally, because fierce winter storms pound the area, the property has only a short summer season when it is useable.

The college foundation has been spending $70,000 per year on upkeep of the facilities. The expert team recommended that the college use at least some of the money from the sale to invest in another field station closer to home, to allow students the chance to have real-life scientific experience in a marine environment.

Foundation officials, however, said the money was already contractually committed to be used by the sailing and seamanship center. Sale of the island could fetch $1.5 million to $2 million that could be used to buy land for additional parking and to renovate locker rooms at the sailing center, said Doug Bennett, executive director of the college's foundation.

Susan Lohr, who headed up the consulting team, said she didn't know of any community college field stations that were self-supporting, and administrators must think of them as educational resources that require funding, like libraries.

A field station budget "usually emerges as a pretty grim picture with a lot of subsidies," she said.
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Author:Fisher, Marla
Publication:Community College Week
Article Type:Cover story
Date:Jul 30, 2007
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