John Garbisch described Cedar Point Biological Station as NU’s “experimental campus,” because it offers an immersive experience for students to pursue field work outside the traditional classroom setting. Garbisch, the Director of CPBS, is actively increasing opportunities for experimentation as they are expanding their course offerings outside of Biology this summer.
The field research facility, located in Ogallala, hosts a variety of sustainable systems that students have the opportunity to live alongside. A compost pile is sustained from food waste and cedar mulch, and compost from three years ago is providing zucchini and squash beds nutrients to grow this summer. Utilizing the invasive cedar tree species to produce mulch for the facility has in turn reduced the need for herbicides.
A few programs this summer incorporated nature and design, including the new course − Mixed Media: Art and Nature − where students had free reign to choose their own materials and find inspiration from the landscape and surrounding lake McConaughy.
On the first day of the two-week Mixed Media program, Sophomore Art major Mikayla Zulkoski was beginning her project to use needle and felt to create three different landscape sceneries that each used a different color scheme to represent different sunshades of the day.
“Needle felting is different fibers with different textures, and you can see what wools have been treated nicer,” Zulkoski said. “I’m trying to incorporate this natural setting at Cedar Point into needle felting and embroidery.”
Zulkoski said Professor Eddie Dominguez understands and instructs that the artist should not be confined to a certain role or medium, so he allowed the students to pursue their own materials. Dominguez, a professor of Art, History and Design, suggested that the landscape of Cedar Point is a special opportunity for the students to have a greater connection to the work they are producing.
“To combine different ideas of physical nature is something that is very possible to do out here,” Dominguez said. “You can talk about and show images of nature in the classroom, but it’s very different to stand in front of a lake and draw it. It is there in front of you, and that’s special.”
Regardless of the student’s studies, CPBS offers a greater connectedness with the subject and environment, whether it is art students observing and drawing insects or biology students going on late-night hunts to catch and study them.
Another unique project this summer was funded by a generous donation by NU and Cedar Point alum Mark Baxa that helped to produce a sustainable cabin. Architecture students spent the entire academic year designing and then participated in its construction during the first three week session at Cedar Point. The cabin is constructed with the invasive Cedar species that will withstand weather elements as well as permanently sequester carbon.
The coursework at Cedar Point certainly has resonating effects, from the long life of the newly constructed cabin to the progress that is made each year on field work and research. In the past, ornithology courses have been offered to study birds, and these courses set up feeders that still attract hundreds of bird species to this special habitat.
Garbisch also has long-term plans to continue reducing CPBS’s carbon footprint, such as implementing a solar project on the classroom building roof that would produce over a fourth of the energy needed to power the facilities, as well as improving energy efficiency of the few buildings at the facility.
These long term goals, as well as the smaller projects like composting and purposing the Cedar species are what puts the facility on track to becoming a closed system with no new outputs. This offers students opportunities to engage in active learning to give their own recommendations on how to continue reducing the environmental impact of this unique classroom.