News & Resources

Faculty Profiles: Ken Sytsma, Field Botany

Posted by Paul Wiemerslage | Mar 05, 2015

Recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities in plant systematics and taxonomy, Dr. Ken Sytsma is Past-President of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists and a former Head of the University of Wisconsin Herbarium and Curator of the Summit Herbarium of the Missouri Botanical Garden. He is also author of over 100 peer-reviewed publications in plant taxonomy and the current recipient of a nearly three million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation to support studies of plant biodiversity and the roles of functional, phylogenetic, and genetic diversity in structuring and sustaining plant communities through environmental change. Although his skills and expertise are in demand worldwide, Sytsma brings his enthusiasm for plants to Au Sable's Great Lakes Campus year after year to teach Au Sable's Field Botany course.

“I always look forward to this great opportunity,” says Sytsma, “to both teach and learn about plants in their natural communities across Northern Michigan with motivated Christian students that come to Au Sable. Although an intensive five weeks, this time in the field and at Au Sable can be a refreshing ‘sabbatical’ for both students and faculty.”

A member of the Au Sable teaching faculty since 1996, Sytsma's Field Botany class is known for its quality of instruction, field experiences, and first hand contact with and identification of hundreds of species native to the northern Michigan landscape.

Says Sytsma's former student Emily Gavard (Wheaton College), “Dr. Sytsma was a wonderful professor, who I was incredibly blessed to get to know. He was friendly, encouraging, and always willing to help his students out in any way possible. He's an incredibly knowledgeable man, at the top of his field, and is very gifted at passing that knowledge on to his students.”

Adds fellow Field Botany student Diane Harris (Calvin College), "[Ken] got us out of the classroom and into plant communities as often as he could and really helped us develop field skills.”

Student Amie Wegmeyer, a local resident who took Sytsma’s class, commented, “Ken's extensive expertise could make teaching a beginning botany class boring for him, but instead, he presents the basics patiently and clearly, shows shared genuine enthusiasm with his students resulting in "aha!" moments, and gives the impression that he is just as willing to learn from them as they are from him. His own studies and expeditions give him stories to tell that turn academia into adventure, and his depth of knowledge allows him to provide intriguing insights on plants we're tempted to think we know all about.”  

For every student, Au Sable’s Field Botany course offers an exceptional opportunity to learn plant identification, taxonomy, and systematics from one of the world’s leading authorities, Ken Sytsma.