While most students were settling into their weekend routines, Hillsdale biology students were entertaining their scientific interests by lighting swamp gases into flames in northern Michigan this past weekend.
On Sept. 16 and 17, 40 students along with the professors of the biology department had an opportunity to explore and enjoy the outdoors at the college’s Rockwell Lake Lodge at the G.H. Gordon Biological Station in Luther, MI. Activities included kayaking, swimming, hiking, and canoeing.
“Hillsdale College students really just never do nothing,” junior Savannah Rothhaas, a biochemistry major, said. “When we were there, I really felt like I could relax. I love the outdoors. I love being one with nature, and collecting swamp gas and lighting it up — just fun things like that.”
Delicious food, quality conversations, and spontaneous adventures captured the hearts of the students as they explored the secluded, yet beautiful biostation. On Sunday morning, the students canoed 13 miles down the Manistee River.
Assistant Professor of Biology Silas Johnson coordinated the trip. The college owns the biostation and lodge and introduced retreats when Johnson was a student. Though he never attended the retreat as a student, he has gone multiple times as a faculty member.
“It’s been a fantastic experience,” Johnson said. “It’s been a nice time for the bio department to get away and enjoy each other’s company away from campus. It gives us a chance to socialize and talk about science and enjoy nature.”
Though the trip is primarily catered toward biology majors and minors, Johnson noted that any freshmen and sophomores interested in biology were invited to attend.
Freshman Sonya Wirkus took advantage of this opportunity. A Utah native, she said she discovered a whole new sort of beauty.
“I thought the Midwest would be this ugly flat ground,” Wirkus said. “I didn’t think it could be pretty, until I went to the biostation, so that definitely changed my opinion of Michigan.”
The trip also served as a time for students to both affirm their love for biology as well as expand their minds to the many possibilities within the biological sciences.
“The retreat made me a lot more interested in doing research at the biostation and made me realize that I’m not super interested in just staying in a lab,” junior Danae Sollie said. “I find getting out and working in the field is a lot more interesting and a lot more exciting. It definitely made me consider working there this summer.”
Aside from exploring the outdoors, students cultivated deeper relationships with their professors.
“The professors genuinely wanted to be there, and I don’t think that’s something that really happens everywhere you go,” Sollie said. “It was cool that they wanted to spend a weekend with their students and in nature.”
Rothhaas said that the trip facilitated time to get to know the professors not just strictly as professors, but also as people.
“It was so cool seeing them so excited to be outside and just as excited as we were,” Rothhaas said. “It was just really interesting seeing them in a different atmosphere than the classroom.”
Though students and professors built stronger community among one another, Wirkus also found contentment in other relationships — new friendships with upperclassmen.
“I think the relationships with upperclassmen can be really valuable, and so you really have to take that leap of uncomfortableness to get to know them,” Wirkus said.
Following the trip, Wirkus concluded that she is now more comfortable walking around campus because of the friendships she made.
“I’m actually a part of this community,” Wirkus said. “It’s no longer me on the outside looking in but I’m a part of it and I can walk with confidence with it.”
When asked the purpose of the biology retreat, Johnson smiled.
“The objective is to have fun,” Johnson said. “That’s it.”