In the Field

Photo of Michele Schtzenhofer

The leech was fat and succulent and the student was shrieking with delight. Just another day in the field for Dr. Michele “Mickey” Schutzenhofer '03, professor of biology. Only today, the field was a river. And the leech was an unexpected guest.

“We were using nets to sample little organisms from the bed of the Huzzah River,” recalled Schutzenhofer, an advocate of hands-on learning. “I remember thinking, ‘That’s great. If I can get one student so excited over a leech…’”

Just think what she could do with a field of invasive plants.

“I’m definitely a field person,” said the McKendree graduate, who received her biology degree in 2003 before attaining a Ph.D. in ecology, evolution and systematics from Saint Louis University. “The prairie is my second home.”

Endangered and invasive plant species are her specialty. A working scientist and published field ecologist, the professor often invites students to take part in her outdoor research, giving them the opportunities she craved at their age.

Quotation Graphic

“When I attended school here, all of my fellow biology students were either pre-med, pre-veterinary school or they wanted to go work in a lab. I was different.
~ Dr. Michele “Mickey” Schutzenhofer '03

She was the girl who searched for wildflowers on her grandparents’ farm, carrying Peterson’s “Guide to Wildflowers” everywhere she went.

“Fortunately for me, a faculty member at McKendree took the time to understand what I wanted to do. He set up an internship for me with a renowned ecologist.” The ecologist authored a textbook she now uses in one of her classes.

“I offer classes that weren’t around when I was a student. Conservation biology is a new class I brought to the program. I also helped start the environmental studies program. I’m trying to help students realize their full potential.”

If their potential lies in the field, all the better.

“I get to know my students. I notice when someone would like a research opportunity. I’ll say, ‘Hey, I have this work out in the prairie. Would you like to be involved?’ Students often fight tooth and nail for research opportunities.”

For one project, Schutzenhofer and a group of honor students collected trash at Carlyle Lake, brought it back to campus and strung it up on chicken wire in the middle of the quad.

Fishing line. Styrofoam cups. Fast food restaurant bags. The students highlighted their finds with information on how long each item would take to degrade. The display was both eye catching and eye opening.

She also mentors a student each summer through the McKendree-Tyson Undergraduate Research Fellowship, which allows a McKendree student to work closely with her to pursue independent environmental research in prairie ecosystems at a local field site.

“When you give students ownership over a project, they go way beyond what you could ever imagine. I enjoy being the person who brings research to the students that normally they wouldn’t get at another small school.”

Learn more about McKendree University or the Biology program.