Beehive Project Team

Bearcat Beehive Project is an Interdisciplinary Collaboration

by Greg Kassen ’18

Students working in the fieldOver the past year and a half, a large group of McKendree University students, working across various disciplines, took part in a project to restore the pollinator plot at the Willoughby Heritage Farm and Conservation Reserve in Collinsville, Ill. Adopting the name the “Bearcat Beehive Project,” eight different disciplines had a hand in the restoration, spanning 10 unique courses and involving 129 students.

“We were extremely pleased with the end result and impressed with the collaborative efforts of the staff and students,” said Carol Frerker, Willoughby Farm supervisor. “We were excited to see how everyone pulled it all together as a team utilizing individual skills, expertise and academic experiences. With the different academic fields working together, many goals were reached and the ecological impact was that much greater.”

On the farm, the pollinator garden provides three major functions. First, the main role of the garden is to attract, feed, and provide habitat for the population of local pollinators. These pollinators mostly include bees; however, butterflies, birds, and even bats are found to be pollinators in nature. In addition to this function, the garden acts as a stormwater bioswale to catch and reclaim runoff water from the farm. Prior to the garden’s installation, the excess stormwater was “causing severe farmyard erosion,” according to Carol.

Pollinator GardenConcerning the garden’s third function, Carol describes a space where visitors can view the plot. Included in this space is a path for observers, with labels along the way to inform about the various parts of the garden. “The intention is to provide an exploratory area that will attract and educate visitors about our pollinators, habitat loss, along with resources on how to make a difference in their own backyard,” she said. In addition to this, Carol stresses another benefit of the garden: “We will also simply enjoy its beautiful blooms with each season!”

Although much of the planting was done in the spring, planning for the project began in 2016. Eventually, throughout the semester, an idea was formed and general student projects were determined. The faculty then took the project to the classroom.

“I visited each class involved in the project and gave an introductory presentation on pollination, bee diversity, and the importance of pollinators,” said Dr. Michele Schutzenhofer ’03, chair of the Division of Science and Mathematics and the project organizer. “Each class then brainstormed ideas for a theme, which ended up being the Bearcat Beehive Project. The theme was chosen because the students said that they were like a hive since they were all working on separate tasks but also working together with a common objective.”

Student Working in GardenThe disciplines that went on to contribute directly to the Willoughby project included biology, environmental studies, professional writing and art. Minor roles were given to courses in education, political science, environmental studies, and health and wellness. Each discipline was assigned tasks suitable to their field. Students in the environmental studies’ ENS 490 course, for instance, developed and installed the garden throughout the semester. Their tasks included selecting the appropriate plants, laying out the dimensions, and determining the number and size of the plant beds. Senior Tanner Cicci, who worked with Willoughby as an intern during the spring of 2018, said his main task “was to pick what plants we wanted to install. I made sure in each individual flower box there would be something in bloom early, middle, and later in the season so there would always be something to pollinate. I also had to pick some plants to go in the swale to help combat the erosion issue Willoughby wanted us to address.”

The informative signs lining the walkway of the garden were created through collaboration as well. The material used for the signs was developed by the BIO 320 Conservation Biology course, text that appeared on the signs was composed by professional writing students, and artwork that adorned the signs was created by the art department. During his internship, Tanner installed the signs on site.

“This project definitely provided many learning opportunities for me by providing various challenges,” said Emily Stanowski ’18, a marketing major and professional writing student who helped to create the signs, “but it was definitely worth it to be able to see my work come to life.”

The art department, in addition to decorating the signs, created two “bee hotels,” intended to house the pollinators of the garden.

“They truly made an ecological and professional impact on Willoughby Farm and the future of our pollinators,” Carol said in regards to the students. “And, they simply made a positive difference in our community and region.”