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Forty stu­dents, along with faculty, attended Hillsdale’s biology department retreat this past weekend.
Emily Holtyn | Courtesy

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.”