Our Rich History: TMU Field Station Begins Next 50 Years of River Research, Education and Outreach

By Dr. Chris Lorentz
Thomas More University

Part 51 of our “Retrospect and Vista II” series: Thomas More College/University, 1971-2021

In 2017, Thomas More University (TMU) celebrated the 50th anniversary of our Biology Field Station, a state-of-the-art STEM facility located on the banks of the Ohio River. Since acquiring the property, a former Army Corps lock and dam facility, in 1967, the field station has served undergraduate students, K-12 schools, and the public through research, education and awareness programs.

Research Laboratory Building: The Ohio River Research and Education Center houses a classroom, offices, and three laboratories for the conservation of aquatic organisms and water quality monitoring. (Courtesy of Dr. Chris Lorentz)

In 2018, with the construction of the STEM Outreach Center, the field station completed its 25-year facilities master plan.

A boathouse, a conference center, four laboratories, three classrooms and an outdoor classroom complete the university buildings, as well as four residences for summer interns and visitors. From humble beginnings with a few dedicated biology teachers and like-minded students, the field station has grown to become a year-round center for research and education on the Ohio River, attracting students from nationwide and working with federal agencies, including the US Fish and Wildlife Services and US Environmental Protection Agency. (See also this historical column from NKyTribune)

A flagship program at the station includes undergraduate research internships. Beginning in 1971 and every year since, students conduct research, collect organisms, and measure water quality parameters in what has become the longest continuous survey of the Ohio River. With over five decades of scientific data, we have documented significant changes and improvements in overall ecosystem health. Each year, 10-12 students are selected from a highly competitive national pool of applicants from as far away as California and Puerto Rico.

Education Conference Center: Also known as the Lodge, this building is a multi-purpose facility that contains a classroom, living room, full kitchen, office, four restrooms, and eleven bedrooms. (Courtesy of Dr. Chris Lorentz)

Interns conduct research in the fields of aquatic biology, ecology, environmental science and field biology. Projects include animal husbandry, bioassessments, fisheries, harmful algal bloom monitoring, and ecotoxicology, among others. Through experience, students gain increased understanding and mastery of research practices and processes; discipline-specific concepts and content; stronger skills in discipline-specific methods and procedures; expanded professional networks; and a greater sense of belonging to the scientific community. The program has been nationally recognized for its positive impact on student development in STEM disciplines. Field Station’s intern retention and graduation rate is 100% with a placement rate of over 90% in graduate schools or workplaces.

The Biology Field Station, with its unique facilities, innovative programs, and immersive learning environment, provides a transformative experience for undergraduate and K-12 students.

Collaborations are also at the heart of the Field Station. Formal agreements exist between the station and the largest federal agencies in the environmental fields – US Fish & Wildlife Services and US Environmental Protection Agency – both of which provide technical expertise, equipment and mentorship to our students. and teachers. Additionally, the station works closely with the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) and Sanitation District No. 1 (SD1) to assess and monitor waterways in our area.

The laboratory team (from left to right) Ámbar Del Mar Nevarez Pagan (Universidad del Sagrado Corazón, Puerto Rico), Nicole Arkenau (Thomas More University) and Sarah Kerr (Middle Tennessee State University). This group of undergraduate interns maintains our aquaculture and propagation systems for aquatic species of concern, such as the masters of hell pictured here and freshwater mussels. (Courtesy of Dr. Chris Lorentz)

More recently, the field station has worked closely with the Greater Cincinnati Water Works and the Northern Kentucky Water District to protect public health through the protection of our drinking water sources. Specifically, a continuous flow gas chromatograph and multi-parameter chemical probes will be installed at the station to closely monitor the water quality of the Ohio River upstream of the drinking water intakes.

Field stations are at the interface between environmental protection and public health.

Along with research, a wide variety of educational, outreach, and social activities take place at the research station. They include nightly retreats, workshops, STEM camps, and lectures, especially with the addition of the Conference Center, a LEED-certified building, and the STEM K-12 Outreach Center.

With accommodations for up to 40 people and state-of-the-art teaching facilities integrated into the natural environment, the number and diversity of users including campus academic departments, sports teams, local K-12 schools and the surrounding community, have increased significantly.
The importance of protecting our waterways has also increased significantly. To this end, the field station works closely with the Ohio River Basin Alliance (ORBA).

The Alliance is a collaboration of stakeholders for Ohio River Basin water resources priorities that strive to maintain healthy river ecosystems and communities and vibrant water-dependent economies.

2021 Undergraduate Research Interns: Each year, the Biology Research Station selects up to 16 undergraduate students from across the country to live on-site and conduct research in the fields of aquatic ecology and life sciences. the environment. These students also serve as environmental educators and mentors for our STEM outreach programs. (Courtesy of Dr. Chris Lorentz)

Members from more than 130 organizations, including local, state, and federal agencies, as well as commissions, industries, universities, and nonprofits, work together to provide a unified voice for the Ohio River. As the only academic research facility along the entire 981-mile length of the river, the field station plays a key role in protecting the environment, public health, and the sustainability of our river-dependent communities at many ways. We look forward to the next 50 years of research on rivers and beyond.

Dr. Chris Lorentz is a professor of biological sciences at Thomas More University and director of the university’s biology field station and environmental science program. He recently served as president of the Organization of Biological Field Stations, an international scientific society with 240 member stations in 21 countries on six continents. As president, he led a strategic planning effort to highlight the value of field stations to undergraduates, K-12 students, and the general public. To learn more about the field station or to schedule a visit, please contact Dr. Lorentz at [email protected]

We want to learn about the history of your business, church, school, or organization in our area (Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and along the Ohio River). If you would like to share your rich history with others, please contact Our Rich History editor Paul A. Tenkotte at [email protected] Paul A. Tenkotte, PhD, is a professor of history and gender studies at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) and author of numerous books and articles.

The River Crew: (L to R) Christian Slone (Murray State University), Sawyer Lorentz (Thomas More University), Spencer Trimpe (Thomas More University), Molly Williams (Hillsdale College), Hannah Gill (Ohio Northern University) and Ignacio Gotelli (Universidad del Sagrado Corazón, Puerto Rico). The group conducts our annual Ohio River fish bioassessment and survey that began in 1971. (Courtesy of Dr. Chris Lorentz)

K-12 STEM Outreach Center: This building serves our STEM outreach programs including day trips, camps, and workshops. It houses the “George A. and Delores E. Renaker Family Foundation” classroom with distance learning technology and other high-tech features. (Courtesy of Dr. Chris Lorentz)