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UC to Create 'Living Lab' in Park


The agreement with the Hamilton County Park District provides a Cincinnati Center for Field Studies — a living lab for students, teachers and scientists to conduct hands-on research in archeology, geology and environmental studies — and more.

Date: 5/11/2008 12:00:00 AM
By: Wendy Beckman
Phone: (513) 556-1826

UC ingot  

On April 15, 2008, the University of Cincinnati (UC) and the Board of Park Commissioners of the Hamilton County Park District signed a 35-year lease agreement to create the Cincinnati Center for Field Studies (CCFS). The agreement will enable UC to create a scientific field and research station at the 17.6-acre Knollman complex (South Family Shaker Complex) located along Oxford Road in Miami Whitewater Forest.

The Center for Field Studies will be located at the South Family Shaker Complex in Miami Whitewater Forest.
The Center for Field Studies will be located at the South Family Shaker Complex in Miami Whitewater Forest.

David Lentz, executive director of the CCFS, is thrilled that the agreement is finally signed. It’s a day he’s been waiting for. It’s the day he was hired for, actually.

“I couldn’t be more excited,” says Lentz. “Hamilton County Park District will be a great partner for UC and the South Shaker Farm in the middle of Miami Whitewater Forest is a beautiful location for a field station. The whole Cincinnati community will benefit from this partnership.”


“The Board of Park Commissioners is very pleased to be partnering with UC as this collaboration provides an excellent public use of the property, is complimentary to the Park District’s mission and is compatible with the historic nature of the settlement,” says Jack Sutton, director of the Hamilton County Park District.

The University of Cincinnati plans to use the center as a living lab for students, teachers and scientists to conduct hands-on research in archeology, geology and environmental studies — and more. UC looks forward to using the location as a stepping stone for students wanting to become environmental researchers and scientists.

“The Center for Field Studies is an important component of our ability to train the next generation of environmental scientists and draw in research funds,” says Lentz. “Most of the colleges and universities that we compare ourselves to have such stations. Through the center, we can offer our students teaching and research experience at a modest cost.”

“During our 2002 levy campaign, the Hamilton County Park District committed to work cooperatively with other public authorities to achieve our mission of conservation,” states Park Director Sutton. “The Field Study partnership with the University of Cincinnati furthers that mission by participating in the education of future scientists.”

Shaker house at Miami Whitewater Forest.
Shaker house at Miami Whitewater Forest

The property has several existing structures. One, originally a farmhouse built in the 19th century, was occupied into the 21st century but has been vacant recently. Improvements are therefore necessary to make the structures compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and appropriate to act as both a research lab and visitors’ center. Planners hope to have the South Family house ready by September of this year.

UC will be responsible for the day-to-day care and maintenance of the property and will be making improvements in the years to come. Student and UC architects will work together in designing future plans for the property. Possibilities include construction of a new laboratory, green houses and field stations for research purposes.

Lentz, seen here with a Tarahumaran farmer, is well known for his research on sunflowers in Mexico. (Photo by Bob Bye)
Lentz, seen here with a Tarahumaran farmer, is well known for his research on sunflowers in Mexico. (Photo by Bob Bye)

“We will also be helping the parks in their outreach efforts by bringing in visiting scientists and getting them involved with the community through public lectures, nature walks and volunteer research opportunities,” Lentz notes.

“Students in the fields of biology, geology and other environmental sciences will benefit greatly from the field laboratory at Miami Whitewater Forest,” says Sutton. “The Park District will also benefit from the UC partnership through increased research in the park.”

The field station will provide opportunities to students from preschool through high school, and from undergrads through graduate school. Teachers from area schools and university faculty, as well as the community at large, will have the chance to conduct research at the center.

The old barn is one structure being evaluated for optimal research use with least disturbance to existing wildlife.
The old barn is one structure being evaluated for optimal research use with least disturbance to existing wildlife.

“Over the years, the Hamilton County Park District has restored wetlands and prairies at Miami Whitewater Forest. The park also protects woodlands and forest,” explains Sutton. “This diversity of habitats and wildlife makes for an ideal location for scientific study and research.”

The area provides an ideal place to research because of its unique location with rivers, forest, wetlands and prairies, as well as the geological history and cultural significance of the Shaker settlement.

“Not only will the Center for Field Studies focus on the modern environment, but the geology and the archaeology will be areas of interest at the station, as well. We will be able to bring Ohio’s pre-history back to life,” says Lentz.

Lentz sees the Center for Field Studies as a critical step in replenishing a talent pool that is thinning due to aging and retiring environmentalists. 

“The sciences are experiencing a significant rate of drop-out and transfer,” he points out. “It seems there are fewer college students who want to be scientists. So we need to ask, ‘Why are we losing them?’ Maybe it’s the way we teach: in the old-fashioned, stereotypical first-year science classes, the professor might be a tiny person down in front of a class of 100 or 200 students. Is that the best way to light that spark for science?”

“To make science more accessible we need to bring the students to the science, to the outdoors — to get the students more excited about the natural world and the research possibilities,” Lentz says. “We can’t stand still — and the new University of Cincinnati Center for Field Studies in Miami Whitewater Forest will serve as a base for critical research at a time of environmental change and as a ‘hands-on’ center for teaching.”

Cincinnati Zoo Executive Director Thane Maynard interviewed David Lentz about the Cincinnati Center for Field Studies on WVXU's "Cincinnati Edition," Aug. 10, 2008. Listen to the archived interview here.