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LUREC Summer Session 2022

Students and instructor observing birds in a wooded area

Immersive Learning Fuels a Passion for the Natural World

Students get hands-on experience in the field at the Loyola University Retreat and Ecology Campus. 

The School for Environmental Sustainability offers unique opportunities for students to learn through hands-on experiences. Intensive summer courses at the Loyola University Retreat and Ecology Campus (LUREC) give students a chance to get their hands dirty. On any given day, you might find classes examining the soil in a farm field, collecting algae in a pond, or observing birds while hiking through grasslands, forests, and bogs. In the process, students deepen their appreciation of the natural world, form new friendships, and gain memories that will last a lifetime.

The immersive summer sessions at LUREC were put on hold for two years due to the pandemic, but in May 2022, the program resumed. For three weeks, students lived and studied at the facility, located on nearly 100 acres of prairies, woodlands, and wetlands 60 miles northwest of Chicago near Woodstock, Illinois. The group stayed on campus in a dormitory setting, ate meals together in the cafeteria, and completed the equivalent of one semester-long course in a condensed time frame.

This year, three courses were available in this format: Agroecosystems, Principles of Ecology (lab and lecture), and Field Ornithology. Faculty members teaching the courses took full advantage of the LUREC facilities and the nearby natural areas and farms in McHenry County. Brian Ohsowski, PhD, taught Principles of Ecology.

“This immersive educational experience is one that you can’t get just sitting in the classroom, or even on short field trips,” he said. “Coming out and living and breathing the subject you’re taking, this is how we will learn best. It reinforces the things we are learning in the classroom, and we can learn to apply that knowledge to the world we’re studying. You really retain things for the rest of your life.”

Students observing birds in the field with Brian Ohsowski

Students in Principles of Ecology explored woodlands, bogs, and other ecosystems with Professor Brian Ohsowski, PhD, (center). 

Graduate student Isabela Mendes also emphasized the value of hands-on experience. She took the Agroecosystems course taught by Ray Dybzinski, PhD. 

“I think learning here at LUREC facilitates a level of understanding that you can’t get in a lecture setting,” she said. “For example, learning about agriculture, we get to go out and see functional production farms, speak to farmers, and learn a new perspective straight from the source.” 

Dybzinski agreed that teaching and studying at LUREC is a special experience.

“The learning is a little deeper, the community is a little deeper, and we have a ton of fun,” he said. “We can immerse ourselves and get close to this environment.”

students collecting soil samples in a field

Students in Agroecosystems visited farms and studied soil health. 

With a semester’s worth of material to pack into three weeks, the summer session can be intense. For example, students in Field Ornithology get up early to observe birds.

“Most days, we start at 5 a.m.,” said student Fiona Farrer. “We go out for five or six hours to several locations each day, seeing different habitats and ecosystems. We’ve seen over 120 bird species,” she said.

Students all seemed to agree that all the hard work was worth it.

“We all have such a passion for what we’re learning, so to come out here and do what we love and learn more about it got us really excited,” said Principles of Ecology student Thomas Crabtree. “To be able to get out and experience what you’re learning about adds such a dimension to your education. To get out and see bogs, wetlands, get out in the mud, experience things we’ve never experienced before, that’s what I love about it,” he said. “I love being able to walk out the back door, go to the pond, take aquatic samples, and then to be able to go to the lab and look at it under a microscope.”

student working in a lab

Lab facilities at LUREC allow students to analyze samples collected in the field. 

For Field Ornithology students Grace Whitten and Scotty Monteith, the experiential classes were a chance to explore possible career paths and gain valuable skills. Whitten is interested in becoming an ornithologist, and the course allowed them to learn more about the daily activities involved in studying birds in the field. First-year student Scotty Monteith’s goal is to work for the US Environmental Protection Agency or another organization focused on protecting the environment. He said that the class introduced him to field research methods that will be essential in his future career. 

Stephen Mitten, SJ, taught the ornithology course. He said he enjoys seeing students light up when they see a new bird species for the first time, and when they can identify it the next time they see it.

“I think students come away from the three-week course with a deeper appreciation of birds and their role in the environment as indicators of the health of the planet. Talk about the canary in the coal mine, well birds are our modern-day canaries in a changing climate,” said Mitten.

Student identifying a feather in the ornithology lab

Field Ornithology students learned in the classroom, in the lab, and in the field. 

In addition to the educational aspects of the program, students valued the camaraderie and sense of community that they quickly established with their peers. They bonded around their shared interest in nature and formed fast friendships that will carry over into the academic year. Caitlyn Aquila, a senior in the Agroecosystems class, said the atmosphere reminded her of summer camp, and she enjoyed sharing meals with the group in the cafeteria.

“It’s exciting to wake in the morning and know I’m going to have breakfast with everyone here and be able to talk to them and start my day off on a good note. There’s always something to do, always people to talk to, and that’s been fun,” she said. 

Students collecting aquatic samples in a pond

Students quickly made new friends and formed a strong sense of community during the summer session.

Thomas Crabtree also pointed to the camaraderie among classmates as a highlight of his time at LUREC.

“We were never timid around each other,” he said. “We just jumped into it and started making great connections. We’ve created such close bonds because it’s such an intense educational and activity-filled experience. It’s an experience I’ll cherish for a while.”

Students in the summer session said they would recommend the experience to others. Some also noted that because the three-week sessions end in late May, it was still possible to participate in other activities later in the summer.

“I would say if you’re thinking about taking a class at LUREC, absolutely do it,” said junior Kendall McMullen. “It’s such a fun time, and it’s short enough you can still do other things—you can do an internship for the rest of the summer. It’s just a great experience overall.”

The immersive summer sessions at LUREC were put on hold for two years due to the pandemic, but in May 2022, the program resumed. For three weeks, students lived and studied at the facility, located on nearly 100 acres of prairies, woodlands, and wetlands 60 miles northwest of Chicago near Woodstock, Illinois. The group stayed on campus in a dormitory setting, ate meals together in the cafeteria, and completed the equivalent of one semester-long course in a condensed time frame.

This year, three courses were available in this format: Agroecosystems, Principles of Ecology (lab and lecture), and Field Ornithology. Faculty members teaching the courses took full advantage of the LUREC facilities and the nearby natural areas and farms in McHenry County. Brian Ohsowski, PhD, taught Principles of Ecology.

“This immersive educational experience is one that you can’t get just sitting in the classroom, or even on short field trips,” he said. “Coming out and living and breathing the subject you’re taking, this is how we will learn best. It reinforces the things we are learning in the classroom, and we can learn to apply that knowledge to the world we’re studying. You really retain things for the rest of your life.”

Graduate student Isabela Mendes also emphasized the value of hands-on experience. She took the Agroecosystems course taught by Ray Dybzinski, PhD. 

“I think learning here at LUREC facilitates a level of understanding that you can’t get in a lecture setting,” she said. “For example, learning about agriculture, we get to go out and see functional production farms, speak to farmers, and learn a new perspective straight from the source.” 

Dybzinski agreed that teaching and studying at LUREC is a special experience.

“The learning is a little deeper, the community is a little deeper, and we have a ton of fun,” he said. “We can immerse ourselves and get close to this environment.”

With a semester’s worth of material to pack into three weeks, the summer session can be intense. For example, students in Field Ornithology get up early to observe birds.

“Most days, we start at 5 a.m.,” said student Fiona Farrer. “We go out for five or six hours to several locations each day, seeing different habitats and ecosystems. We’ve seen over 120 bird species,” she said.

Students all seemed to agree that all the hard work was worth it.

“We all have such a passion for what we’re learning, so to come out here and do what we love and learn more about it got us really excited,” said Principles of Ecology student Thomas Crabtree. “To be able to get out and experience what you’re learning about adds such a dimension to your education. To get out and see bogs, wetlands, get out in the mud, experience things we’ve never experienced before, that’s what I love about it,” he said. “I love being able to walk out the back door, go to the pond, take aquatic samples, and then to be able to go to the lab and look at it under a microscope.”

For Field Ornithology students Grace Whitten and Scotty Monteith, the experiential classes were a chance to explore possible career paths and gain valuable skills. Whitten is interested in becoming an ornithologist, and the course allowed them to learn more about the daily activities involved in studying birds in the field. First-year student Scotty Monteith’s goal is to work for the US Environmental Protection Agency or another organization focused on protecting the environment. He said that the class introduced him to field research methods that will be essential in his future career. 

Stephen Mitten, SJ, taught the ornithology course. He said he enjoys seeing students light up when they see a new bird species for the first time, and when they can identify it the next time they see it.

“I think students come away from the three-week course with a deeper appreciation of birds and their role in the environment as indicators of the health of the planet. Talk about the canary in the coal mine, well birds are our modern-day canaries in a changing climate,” said Mitten.

In addition to the educational aspects of the program, students valued the camaraderie and sense of community that they quickly established with their peers. They bonded around their shared interest in nature and formed fast friendships that will carry over into the academic year. Caitlyn Aquila, a senior in the Agroecosystems class, said the atmosphere reminded her of summer camp, and she enjoyed sharing meals with the group in the cafeteria.

“It’s exciting to wake in the morning and know I’m going to have breakfast with everyone here and be able to talk to them and start my day off on a good note. There’s always something to do, always people to talk to, and that’s been fun,” she said. 

Thomas Crabtree also pointed to the camaraderie among classmates as a highlight of his time at LUREC.

“We were never timid around each other,” he said. “We just jumped into it and started making great connections. We’ve created such close bonds because it’s such an intense educational and activity-filled experience. It’s an experience I’ll cherish for a while.”

Students in the summer session said they would recommend the experience to others. Some also noted that because the three-week sessions end in late May, it was still possible to participate in other activities later in the summer.

“I would say if you’re thinking about taking a class at LUREC, absolutely do it,” said junior Kendall McMullen. “It’s such a fun time, and it’s short enough you can still do other things—you can do an internship for the rest of the summer. It’s just a great experience overall.”