CBS students, faculty argue for a new facility

The Itasca Station and Laboratories were built around World War II.

CBS students, faculty argue for a new facility

Emily Mongan


 For more than 70 years, University of Minnesota biology students have been using the diverse ecological backdrop of the Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories to aid their studies.

But faculty members and students who use the facilities say it’s outdated. In his proposed bonding bill, Gov. Mark Dayton suggested giving the University the $4 million it requested to rebuild the station. The project would cost a total of $6 million.

The University has attempted to get funding from the state twice before.

Getting the project added to the 2012 budget is only half the battle. Dayton’s proposed budget will likely undergo drastic changes this session. That’s why the College of Biological Sciences is calling upon students, faculty and community members to lend their voices to a campaign to rebuild the station.

Neuroscience freshman Joseph Bognar said he believes what the University gains through the Itasca campus is something that needs to be preserved.

“It’s special to CBS, and honestly I think more colleges should have something like this,” he said. “It shouldn’t be something that is taken away, by any means.”

The biological station itself is more than 100 years old. The majority of its buildings were built shortly after World War II.

There’s been a 20 percent increase in the number of students using the station in the past five years, making the need for renovation more urgent, according to CBS data.

The new station would include a student center with classroom labs and an auditorium.

The reasons for rebuilding Itasca are more than just aesthetic, supporters say. In a world where online classes and Internet assessments have become the norm, Lake Itasca serves as one of the last remaining places where students and faculty alike can go out and participate in hands-on experiences among nature, said David Biesboer, director of the station.

“It’s the only place left in Minnesota where you can really take some hardcore field classes and put your hands on nature as an individual,” Biesboer said.

He said the station is also well-known and unique because it offers different types of learning experiences and classes.

Among these unique learning experiences is Nature of Life, a three-day summer program for incoming CBS freshmen. Over the course of the program, students work in small groups on lab, field and discussion sessions aimed at orientating them not only to their studies but to their fellow classmates as well.

Joseph Conway, a neuroscience freshman, looks back on his time at Lake Itasca fondly.

“It was a good way to meet people in my field who have the same interests as me and to feel a sense of community,” Conway said. “It made Welcome Week a lot easier.”

To Bognar, “Nature of Life” was a chance to experience the type of challenging coursework typical in CBS without the added stress of actually being in school.

“It gives us a great segue into what a college course is going to feel like,” Bognar said. “[The instructors] jump right into [the material], and they expect you to understand some of the stuff and contribute.”

To date, more than 4,000 students have participated in the Nature of Life program, including microbiology freshman Anthony Fleck, who said he’s thankful for the hands-on experience he gained during his time at Itasca.

“It was really cool to do some kind of hands-on, in-the-field work,” Fleck said. “You know, looking at some of what’s out there and seeing some stuff that I had never seen before.”

The CBS website has a form for Itasca supporters to email their legislators encouraging them to support the University’s capital request.