Junior Eliz­abeth Palmer par­tic­i­pates in the canoe trip down the Man­istee River as a part of the annual biology retreat at the G.H. Gordon Bio­logical Station. Andrea Wallace | Courtesy

When Hillsdale College biology stu­dents swap lab­o­ra­tories and class­rooms for their annual lakeside retreat, they trek through the woods on a botany hike, burn methane, and canoe for hours on a river.

“Whether it’s lighting swamp gas…the s’mores, the canoe trips, the meals that we share together, even the ride up and back ­— the trip heightens cama­raderie among stu­dents of dif­ferent levels and [between] stu­dents and faculty,” Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Biology Jeffrey VanZant said in an email. “The whole weekend is fan­tastic.”

About 25 science stu­dents and seven biology faculty members attended the biology retreat Sat­urday and Sunday, which was held more than three hours away at the college’s G.H. Gordon Bio­logical Station near Rockwell Lake in Luther, Michigan. The retreat has been an annual tra­dition since about 2009, according to Pro­fessor of Biology David Houghton.

“It’s an oppor­tunity to cel­e­brate with biology major friends, spend time with pro­fessors, and mentor freshmen,” said senior Andrea Wallace, who has gone on the retreat since her first semester at Hillsdale. “It’s cool to be with like-minded people who appre­ciate your work.”

Assistant Pro­fessor of Biology Silas Johnson, who orga­nized the retreat, said it’s a good oppor­tunity for stu­dents and faculty to enjoy the biology station, which oth­erwise is used only for summer classes and student research projects.

The biology department pays for the retreat, Johnson said, so stu­dents go for free. No one has to apply to go, and the retreat is open to biology, chem­istry, and bio­chem­istry majors as well as stu­dents in the 100-level science courses.

The range of ages among stu­dents and pro­fessors cul­ti­vates a unique oppor­tunity for bonding in the department, Houghton said.

“It’s a chance for the freshmen to meet the faculty and the upper­classmen,” Houghton said in an email. “And it’s a good oppor­tunity for all of us to relax and enjoy our mag­nif­icent bio­station on one of the last nice weekends of a Michigan autumn.”

Several tra­di­tions make the retreat mem­o­rable, Wallace said: a botany hike led by Pro­fessor of Biology Ranessa Cooper, a two-hour canoe ride along the Man­istee River, and two seniors taking a methane-trapping con­traption into the lake at night to capture the gas and light it on fire.

Pro­fessor of Biology Francis Steiner also plays guitar around the campfire, Wallace said, even playing songs he wrote himself.

“It really is a com­munity-building thing,” said senior Madison Frame, who went on the retreat for the third time this year. “Having this expe­rience where you’re out­doors having fun in nature creates this cama­raderie on a deeper level than you find in the classroom.”