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In This Issue

       

More heavy-duty vehicles needed to get WSU students, faculty to remote field camps

Youngmeyer Ranch
Biology students and faculty make frequent trips to remote sites such the Youngmeyer Ranch east of Wichita. An initial survey has revealed that the Flint Hills property is home to more than 400 species of plants and as many as 57 species of amphibians and reptiles.

On a 90-degree day last summer 60 miles east of Wichita, Greg Houseman Greg Houseman found himself in a situation he had long dreaded: standing on the side of a road next to a broken down Suburban filled with students.

A biology professor at Wichita State University, Houseman and a group of his students had spent the day exploring the vast Flint Hills property known as the Youngmeyer Ranch. The owners of the property recently granted WSU access to conduct research and field study.

But the excitement of that opportunity is tempered by the risks Houseman and other WSU faculty and students take every time they hit the road in the 1994 Suburban, owned by Wichita State.

“It’s an issue of reliability and safety,” Houseman says of the vehicle with 202,000 miles on it. “We’re trying to keep it running, but that’s been the case ever since I got here seven years ago.”

Youngmeyer Ranch
WSU biology students work on an experiment at the Youngmeyer Ranch site in the Flint Hills.

The vehicle is one of several that need to be replaced for field work conducted by the WSU biology, geology and anthropology departments. The cost for a new Suburban, a heavy-duty vehicle with ample room for people and equipment, is about $60,000, while a slightly used one can run about $40,000. Tight university budgets have kept the vehicles from being a priority expense, so the WSU Foundation hopes donors will step up with philanthropic contributions.

The need is urgent. For instance, the geology department is unable to meet student demand to participate in field schools because of the lack of proper transportation. The geology field school has increased enrollment from 12 students in 2013, to 16 in 2014, and 25 in 2015. The department is in the process of accepting students from other schools and building a national reputation for the program.

Four-wheel-drive vehicles are used to get geology faculty and students to a four-week field camp in the area known as Wyoming’s Bony Back Pocket. It is bordered by six mountain ranges with a topography that goes from flat desert floor to sheer cliff outcroppings to 13,000-foot mountain peaks.

A large group of faculty in biology and anthropology also conduct teaching and research at a variety of field sites. Among them are the 330-acre Ninnescah Reserve near Viola and the 4,600-acre Youngmeyer Ranch.

“Field biology is a growing and expanding program,” says Houseman. Access to the Youngmeyer Ranch, for example, provides new opportunities to work with ranchers on land use, conservation, wildlife management and water issues. Research of this kind, as well as applied learning experiences for students, are top goals for Wichita State.

“It’s not a luxury to have reliable transportation to these sites, it’s a necessity,” Houseman says. “Field work is an important component of both teaching and research.”