Home for undergraduate research that reintroduces endangered plants to their native habitats
Brenau University dedicated a new greenhouse on the Gainesville campus on Friday, May 18, that will expand the university’s successful undergraduate research project that is returning endangered species to their native habitats.
Gale Starich, dean of the College of Health & Sciences at Brenau, said the facility also will be the first step toward the long-term vision for development of a bio-sciences field learning center on the Gainesville campus that will include a small amphitheater, the reclaimed bamboo forest that was established almost 100 years ago and other facilities.
The dedication ceremony honored the Gainesville donors who made it possible: Don and Lori McEachin, whose contribution honored Don’s mother, and Arthur and Pamela Bilyeu, who donated the greenhouse in memory of their daughter, Shannon McCoy, who died of cancer at age 34.
“This has nothing to do with the disease that took our daughter,” Pam Bilyeu said, “it does have to do with her, because she loved digging in the dirt and getting things to grow.”
However, Starich pointed out that the establishment of a culture of research and curiosity at the undergraduate level could lead students down many paths, including projects focused on human sciences as well as botanical endeavors.
“Our vision is that young women in particular need an opportunity and a safe place to expand and explore their career goals,” said Starich. “We are ensuring that starting in your sophomore year at Brenau you can be involved in all kinds of meaningful research.”
Jordan Bryant Wallace, a junior biology major from Cumming, Ga., actually enrolled in Brenau’s pre-physician assistant program, but her work with the endangered plants project, she said, rekindled her earlier interest in horticulture from her days at North Forsyth High School.
“I found that I have a passion for this kind of research,” told the donors and others attending the dedication ceremony outside the new greenhouse. “We are so grateful that you have made more of this possible. We can’t wait to hold classes here and get some of our baby ferns back into the wild.”
She referred to the beginnings of the undergraduate research activities in which Brenau students identified one species of native fern that is almost extinct, and set out to get the plants to grow and reproduce in the laboratory with the aim of re-introducing the species to the wild. The program has now expanded to four species, and the greenhouse will be used to nurture the lab-developed plants and get them strong enough and large enough to thrive again in their natural habitats.
“The university has a broader vision,” said Matt Thomas, Vice President for External Affairs at Brenau. “We see this dedication as a beginning point that starts the progress toward that vision.”