Biking across the state for funds

Graduate students biked Minnesota from bottom to top to raise money.

Graduate students of conservation biology Bridgette Henning, front, and Kate Wyman bike Friday near Willmar, Minn.  The group of nine students covered 444 miles in three days to raise funds in response to financial cuts made to their program.

Joe Michaud-Scorza

Graduate students of conservation biology Bridgette Henning, front, and Kate Wyman bike Friday near Willmar, Minn. The group of nine students covered 444 miles in three days to raise funds in response to financial cuts made to their program.

Becca Shrake

With the wind on her back and nothing but wide-open country on either side, Jennifer Biederman biked along a county road last Friday morning just outside Willmar, Minn. — a couple hours west of the Twin Cities.

When she came to a stop, eight other University of Minnesota graduate students greeted her with high-fives and water.

As relaxing as it seemed, Biederman and her fellow bicyclists were not merely biking for pleasure. They were biking for bucks.

The 10 cyclists — nine students and a professor — ranged from professionals to novices. Some wore spandex outfits while others wore cotton tank tops and shorts.

Despite their different backgrounds, each had the same goal in mind: to raise money for the Conservation Biology Graduate Program, which has been losing money over the years from budget cuts.

The fundraising event was called Bike Across Minnesota, and the cyclists did just that.

The group started its trek Thursday on the Iowa-Minnesota border. After three days, 444 miles and countless bottles of water, the students reached their finish line on the Canadian border at International Falls, Minn.

By the end, the group had raised $4,300 of its $5,000 goal.

Donations came from alumni, faculty, family and businesses. More money is expected to flow in from the pledges made per-mile-biked.

The Conservation Biology Graduate Program is for students working toward doctorate or master’s degrees. Currently, about 50 students are in the program. Over the past few years, money has been dwindling because of the economic crunch.

The students knew they couldn’t raise back all the funding that had been lost, but could realistically raise enough to replenish their conference travel budget.

Each year, the students travel around the state or country to attend conferences, workshops or scientific meetings, where they network and learn from other professionals about conservation biology skills.

Third-year graduate student Mark Ditmer went to the Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation in San Diego earlier this year.

The total travel cost was $700, but the program’s budget pays only $300 for domestic conferences and $500 for international travel.

“It’s expensive enough even with the money from the budget, but it can prevent you from going if you don’t have it at all,” Ditmer said.

James Forester, assistant professor in fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology, joined the students on the bike ride.

He said all he did was “plant the seed” to have a bike ride fundraiser and the students took care of the rest.

Forester came up with the plan to do something “more dramatic” than a 10K run or a 100-mile bike ride, third-year graduate student Sarah Thompson said.

Biking in 20- to 40-mile shifts, the group completed the journey with no rain, no flat tires and no injuries.

On Saturday, the last northward night, the worn-out cyclists were greeted by the northern lights.