By Published: Feb. 28, 2024

CU Boulder’s Mountain Research Station is offering six field courses this summer, giving students the opportunity to study a wide range of disciplines in nature

This summer, some University of Colorado Boulder students will study topics ranging from field ornithology to bioinformatics in one of the most beautiful classrooms in the state.

The CU Boulder Mountain Research Station (MRS) is offering field courses including the Art and Environment Field School, Field Methods in Vegetation Ecology, Field Ornithology, Forest and Fire Ecology, Lake and Stream Ecology, and Bioinformatics in the Mountains.

In addition to a selection of classes, the MRS is also piloting a scholarship program for undergraduate field courses, in the hope of making them more accessible to students.

Scott Taylor

Scott Taylor, a CU Boulder associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, is director of the Mountain Research Station.

The value of field experience

Scott Taylor, the station director, notes that most of the research station’s classes offer students the chance to build practical skills such as sample collection, field work and data analysis. For those who know what they want to do after graduation, this is a way to gain experience and employability, Taylor says, adding that it may clarify others’ interests and ambitions.

Because of its venue high in the Rocky Mountains, the MRS allows students to learn in ways that would not otherwise be possible, Taylor says. For example, the Art and Environment Field School helps students create art by exposing them to the natural beauty of the Front Range, and field ornithology allows them to observe bird activity in nature. Classes at the MRS give students access to what they are studying in its natural context.

“Not every university has its own field station that is just 45 minutes away,” Taylor says, adding that many students’ remote-learning experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic further highlighted the value of field studies.

Inspiring the next generation

A goal of the research station is to “inspire the next generation to care about and study the mountains, so we want to expand the number of ways people can engage with that—and that’s why there’s everything from art and the environment to bioinformatics to more classic ecological courses,” Taylor explains.

This further highlights an unusual aspect of MRS field courses, Taylor says: While all good classes impart students with knowledge and skills, many are limited by the constraints of the classroom. Field courses, however, are active learning experiences that are immersive and engaging, Taylor notes. The field courses offered at the MRS this summer bridge the gap between students and the inspiration of nature.

Students in Rocky Mountains

Students at the Mountain Research Station can study topics ranging from field ornithology to bioinformatics in a beautiful mountain setting. (Photo: Scott Taylor)

Because students also can stay at the MRS, they are immersed in an environment dedicated to ecology. According to Taylor, “you get to know your cohort of students and colleagues really well and be part of the Mountain Research Station community, which is not just students taking field courses; it’s also researchers who are out there for the summer studying various aspects of the mountains.”

Course information

Students can register for the Mountain Research Station’s summer field courses through the regular process once enrollment begins on March 11. Most classes are listed on the CU website as sections of EBIO 4100, but the bioinformatics class is EBIO 4460-750. Course credit is transferrable to other institutions and meets the application requirement for CU’s Environmental Studies program.

Each course is limited to 15 people, and courses may vary length, subject and prerequisites; all of this information is on the MRS website. Though they have different start and finish dates, the courses are all two or three weeks. Most classes have a prerequisite of either one year of course work in general biology or environmental science, or a general ecology course.

Tuition for these courses includes lodging in shared two-person cabins and meals at the MRS dining hall. Thanks to a recent generous anonymous donation, these additional costs will be covered for all field-course participants in 2024, which means that field courses at the MRS will be similarly priced to on-campus classes offering the same number of credit hours this summer.

Top image: Students, flora and fauna at the CU Boulder Mountain Research Station (Photos: Scott Taylor)

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