Group of students and professors standing outdoors at biological center

Biology in Action: The G. H. Gordon Biological Center

Written by Evalyn Homoelle

Every college has its unique treasures and hidden programs that enhance students’ experiences, and to complement the rigorous liberal arts core, Hillsdale’s science departments offer several outside-the-classroom opportunities to build students’ resumes and assist them in practically applying their scientific knowledge.

One of the most exciting opportunities Hillsdale provides is found at the G.H. Gordon Biological Center about four hours from campus in Luther, Michigan. Boasting almost seven hundred acres of forests, fields, and wetlands, this biological center, or BioStation, is the largest among private colleges in the state and hosts students and faculty for various research projects throughout the summer and during the school year. Research is open to students of all years and majors, and anyone interested in spending time in nature, researching biology or ecology, and enjoying the community of living onsite with fellow researchers is welcome to apply. (To watch a video highlighting the purpose and opportunities at the BioStation, click here.)

Dr. David Houghton, biology chair, professor, and the director of the BioStation, told me that the research opportunities are practically unlimited. “We’ve conducted nearly eighty different projects over the last eleven years with no end in sight,” he said. “We’ve studied everything from soil microbes, to spiders, to salamanders, to snapping turtles, and everything in between. We do a lot of work in the lake with fish biology. We have one of the longest running experiments on stream ecology in the state. And, since we have an experimental forest, we do a lot of work with forest ecology.”

The quality of the practical education and professional experience students gain is especially impressive. Dr. Houghton noted that the G.H.Gordon Biological Station is particularly prestigious due to the amount of students’ research that is published.

“It is rare for an undergraduate to publish their findings in the professional scientific literature,” he said. “Nationwide, maybe 5 to 10 percent of them do. During the last eleven years, nearly 60 percent of BioStation students have published their results. I think it really speaks to the quality of the students that we have and how the BioStation inspires them to do their best work.”

Kaitlyn Rowland, a senior biology major planning to pursue orthopedic surgery, participated by studying ecology and observed the importance of research and publication for science majors.

“I think it’s really important as a scientist to be involved in the entire scientific process of research and publication,” Kaitlyn said. “The exposure that Hillsdale students receive in research and publication will help them no matter what field they enter after graduation.”

Kaitlyn’s research compares insect populations between two forest habitats at the BioStation.

“We are hoping to determine if the difference in local habitat has an influence on insect biodiversity when other abiotic factors, like temperature, humidity, and wind speeds are all controlled,” she said.

Although her summer experience was unusual due to the pandemic, Katilyn still enjoyed the non-academic aspects of the biological station as well.

“We stay in bunk houses and have access to full kitchens, so we’re able to cook real meals. We had themed dinners on the weekends (we worked our way through the holidays: Cinco de Mayo, Thanksgiving, Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day), lots of bonfires and s’mores, and movie nights.”

Whether you aspire to be an environmental scientist, a neurosurgeon, or simply enjoy learning about and researching nature, the G.H. Gordon Biological Station combines academic and professional rigor with memorable experiences and the camaraderie of fellow students. The Hillsdale College science program is extremely customizable, as seen in the wide array of practical research opportunities available at the BioStation.

Photo Credit: Dr. David Houghton

For further reading:

A Glimpse of Biology with Dr. David Houghton

Marine Biology Summer Session

Liberal Arts in the Lab

Science Outside Strosacker: Biochemistry, Humanities, and the Real World

Student Evalyn Homoelle Evalyn Homoelle, ’24, hails from the great state of Ohio and plans to pursue pre-allied health or political science and journalism. She is involved in Mock Trial and choir, and obsesses over dark chocolate, Jane Austen novels, classical music, and her golden retriever puppy.

Published in February 2021