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Courses that Change Your Life: Lake Ecology and Management (BIOL 302)

Posted by Paul Wiemerslage | Dec 30, 2014

Good ecology and good education have this in common: integration. At Au Sable, perhaps no course does integration better than Lake Ecology and Management. Between field and lab, Lake Ecology and Management students learn good ecology by integrating physical, chemical, and biological science through studies of underwater ecosystems at a number of the 900 lakes surrounding the Au Sable campus in northern Michigan. At the same time, the course uses good education techniques by integrating knowledge, skills, and service through its extensive field experiences. Venturing out into the lake, students learn skills for collecting data on the temperature, chemistry, and organisms within its waters, the same skills aquatic scientists use in their professional work. Returning to land, students gain knowledge of lake ecosystems by piecing together the data they have collected to understand how complex lake ecosystems work. Lastly, students service the local community by taking the information collected about each lake and putting together an informative report for the local Lake Association, made up of neighbors who live in cottages around the lake, to help them serve, protect, and restore their lake. 

Lake Ecology and Management integrates social factors with ecological ones (a field called landscape ecology). Lakes represent complex ecosystems that are affected by humans who use the lakes and inputs of nutrients, wastes, and invasive species that come from the surrounding landscape. Thus, the demand for biologists with knowledge and skills in effective lake management is likely to grow over time while simultaneously becoming more scientifically complex.

Students in Lake Ecology and Management develop an advanced understanding of the physical and chemical foundations of aquatic systems by learning important environmental measurement methods for transmittance, pressure-solubility relationships, alkalinity, hardness, pH, redox potential, conductivity, dissolved solids, as well as the determination of the presence and concentration of ammonia, nitrate, nitrite, oxygen, sulfate, and chloride. Students grow in their understanding of plant and animal populations in lakes, literally starting from “the bottom up,” learning about phytoplankton and zooplankton to fishes, waterfowl, and aquatic mammals. More than understanding basic information, students will learn how to be genuine “lake managers,” interacting with numerous local lake associations in contributing to ongoing lake surveys and report preparation, speaking directly to questions of interest to local lake home owners and lake management agencies like the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Lake Ecology and Management professor John Korstad, Professor of Biology at Oral Roberts University, has studied lake ecology in both the United States and Europe (Norway), as well as the ecology of other aquatic systems and aquaculture. His current ongoing annual investigations of eight separate lake systems in Kalkaska County, Michigan around the Au Sable Institute have created an extensive network of local contacts and support that will add to the education of every student, as they learn not only how to study the lake ecosystem, but to interact with social, political and cultural factors influencing its use. 

Not only is hands-on learning a hallmark of Korstad’s approach to teaching, but his students respond deeply to his thorough integration of Christian faith and the care of creation. Said one former student, “[Dr. Korstad’s] faith and belief is so prominent and contagious! Even when he doesn't try he radiates his faith to his students and through his lecture.”

Dr. Nathan Bosch, Ph.D., now Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Director of the Kosciusko Lakes and Streams Research Center at Grace College in Indiana, recalls the effect of Lake Ecology and Management on his life. 

“I can literally say that this course changed my life in several ways. First, God used it to help me distill a clear vision for my career… The course introduced me to the field of limnology, and I was drawn to the interdisciplinary aspect of this field with biology, chemistry, physics, and ecology all interwoven into God's complex creation. Second, Dr. Korstad was an example of a scientist who seamlessly integrated his Christian faith with his field of study. It was not unnaturally mashed together, but rather it was in his identity and spilled out into his teaching and mentoring…Third, my experience at Au Sable directly led me to my current position at Grace College which I absolutely love. I am excited about going to work each day to work with my students, faculty colleagues, staff, and administration… and now I have a career that unique fits the way God has prepared and gifted me.” 

Lake Ecology and Management, in the capable hands of Dr. John Korstad, is a course that really can change your life: through knowledge gained, skills learned, and service offered. Just ask Dr. Bosch!