By Emily Dee
Saint Mary’s University recently purchased the Polish Heritage Lodge on Winona’s Prairie Island. According to Jim Bedtke, vice president of the College, the building will offer direct access to the Mississippi River, creating new learning opportunities for science students, especially those majoring in environmental biology.
As one of the first universities in the country to offer an environmental biology degree, Bedtke said some do not realize SMU’s long history with the sciences and the work put into scientific research. Over the years, SMU has cooperated with organizations like the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Department Services, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. These relationships, along with the purchase of the new building, serve as a continuation of SMU’s involvement and emphasis on science, said Bedtke.
According to Bedtke, the nuclear power plant in Red Wing, Minn., sparked interest in what was happening to the Mississippi River and the surrounding environment.
He said those interested in the river wanted to monitor the power plant’s impact on fish, habitat in the backwaters and the level of pollution. Bedtke said SMU did have a lease on river-side land at one point in time, but lost it to the original owner. According to Bedtke, this limited the opportunities of students taking environmental biology.
The new building will offer SMU direct river access, as well as a location for study by students in many science courses. Bedtke said the purchase of the building is a fantastic way to create opportunities for students and the community to study the river’s social, economic and environmental impact.
“This is a sign of our commitment to the sciences. It’s not just for environmental biology majors, but for any student who takes an environmental biology course” or has an interest in science, said Bedtke.
Offering a more hands-on experience, increasing enrollment and increasing the interest in environmental biology are just a few of the side effects Bedtke said the purchase of the building would hopefully create.
For future plans, Bedtke expects expansion to the staging area, which now consists of a place for boats and vans. Expanding it would mean an addition of steps and docks. An annual community event to draw attention to the river is also a plan for the future, said Bedtke.
He said there are plans to make the whole area more open to the community, including high school students in the surrounding areas, and give more overall access to the environmental biology department. There is also potential for GeoSpatial Services offices to be moved there.
Bedtke said some people underestimate the importance of science to SMU and how it impacts every student’s life.
“Science is critical for every person who wants to be considered educated,” he said.