Bio 250: Up the Creek

Water flowing through Calvin's 90-acre Ecosystem Preserve is a part of the Plaster Creek Watershed, the research subject of BIO 250.

It’s time to invest in a pair of hip-high waders and a few flannel shirts. You’ll need them to stay warm—and dry—in Biology 250, a class where you’ll explore the Plaster Creek Watershed, a system of streams and ponds in the greater Grand Rapids area.

The point of BIO 250 is pretty simple: learn how to do sophisticated scientific research in teams of students under the direction of an experienced prof. The course, required for all biology majors, has applications to careers in ecology, health sciences and much more.

Things get interesting when you start talking about what you’re researching (and why you’re researching it). The subject of your scrutiny is one of Michigan’s most polluted watershed areas. Your work, together with that of other students, professors, area churches and community organizations, aims to help the system slowly renew itself.

BIO 250 begins with a study of how humans, starting with the Ottawa Indian tribe, followed by the European settlers and the area’s modern inhabitants, have contributed to the system’s health (or lack thereof). Once you understand the connection between human activity and the environment, you’ll actually take a tour of the system, from its source in southern Kent County to its discharge into the Grand River near downtown Grand Rapids.

In week three of the course, you’ll head to portions of Plaster Creek to do stream sampling. Your tasklist includes checking water quality, doing an inventory of macroinvertebrates (think creepy crawlies) and studying bacteria in the water.

At this point, you’ll join a group and plan a more in-depth research project. You might study how the Talmadge Creek oil spill affects the watershed area, measure the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water, or examine the impact of stream contamination on area wildlife.

The results from your project will have real impact: They will be used by area organizations to influence and form policies to see the watershed area renewed over time.

Can’t get enough of Plaster Creek? You could do paid research during the summer with a prof from the biology department. Or you might become a stewardship liaison for GLISTEN, a project that sees area colleges and community organizations collaborate on environmental projects in the Great Lakes area.


Can’t wait to be in an academic environment where you can contribute to real research? Check out these opportunities:


  • PHAGE RESEARCH – biology 
    • Use cutting-edge genomics research tools to isolate and name a bacterial virus. 
    • Apply today: Search for “phage” on Calvin’s website in March and apply for this opportunity in your first semester at Calvin!


  • FYRES – first-year research in earth sciences
    • Get outside and study Lake Michigan sand dunes in your first year at Calvin. Contribute to research that aims to preserve this natural feature, and get hands-on experience in earth sciences!
    • Apply today


  • SUMMER SCIENCE RESEARCH* – astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology, geography, environmental studies, integrated science, physics and psychology
    • Join over 80 students each summer who get paid to assist professors with research in the sciences.


  • MCGREGOR SUMMER RESEARCH FELLOWSHIPS* – all non-science disciplines
    • Assist a professor with their research in religion, philosophy, communications, English and many other areas of study.

*These research opportunities are available to you once you become a Calvin student. Apply in your first or second year. 

VERGE: spring 2011

First-Year Experience