Habitat area continues transformation into learning center

USAO Habitat Area

Habitat area continues transformation into learning center


By Connor Cheek

It’s not always easy to apply what you learn from a book directly into practice.

In the spirit of enriching our curriculum, five years ago an ambitious group of students, professors, organizations and alumni set into motion plans to transform 140 acres of cattle-grazed land into an educational habitat area. What is historically known as the College Farm has been molded into a powerful learning tool.

Preparation for this habitat area included removing invasive grass species in favor of native blooms, restoring the natural fish populations of the wetland areas, converting the old one-room lodge building into an outdoor classroom, and planting rounds of trees to provide cover and food to the natural fauna.

These projects are ongoing, but the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma community wasted no time making use of the area.

Biology students conduct regular mammal, turtle and fish surveys -- learning and applying the tools of their trade and gaining experience in field research. Ecology students conduct chemical analysis of the wetlands water for personal research that doubles as an ecosystem balancing guide. Physics students research the stars in a newly installed observatory. Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Jeannette Loutsch even uses fruit grown at the habitat to make jam in her annual food science summer course.

USAO’s sciences aren’t the only patrons -- art students regularly set their easels out and paint landscapes. The cross-country team has a set of running trails for extra training. Local Boy Scout troops and high schools use the area for educational and community service related activities.

This all falls under habitat director Dr. Jason Shaw’s vision for the area. Shaw is an assistant professor of biology at USAO.

“The habitat is a continual work in progress to create an outdoor classroom that benefits USAO and the surrounding community,” Shaw said.

Future projects for the habitat include construction of a new pollinator garden to accommodate a recently donated bee colony, all under the guidance of Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Rachel Jones. This summer, Jones, with the help of a USAO student, is building a nearly 500-square-foot garden space which will be strategically filled by students in her upcoming plants and fungi course to be catered to pollinators of surrounding crops and vegetation.

“It’s all about the pollinators, man. It’s almost selfish to help them out,” Jones said while describing the project.

Jones’s students will be responsible for ensuring the garden is self-sustaining and in bloom year-round to maximize the impact it has on the surrounding environment.

The land was originally deeded over to the university in 1909 by H.C. Cloud as a future site for the Oklahoma Industrial Institute and College for Girls (OIICG), though another location was ultimately chosen, according to the USAO Presidential Archives.

For more information on the USAO Habitat Area, follow their Facebook page.

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