Center for Ecology and Natural Resource Sustainability highlights the Importance of Natural Lands

Dr. Lauren Kinsman-Costello
Christopher Blackwood

Kent State University’s Center for Ecology and Natural Resource Sustainability (CENRS) tracks and facilitates the use of Kent State-owned natural areas for research, teaching and engagement, promoting an understanding of the natural environment around the Kent Campus, and especially this past year, a much needed home for field research. 

The mission of CENRS is to provide scientific research opportunities to educate students at Kent State and beyond and to create programs to restore and preserve the integrity of these natural areas. The 17 research sites near the Kent Campus range in size from one to 77 acres and include several bogs, a fen, and numerous mixed woodland properties, all with varying amounts of urban impact. 

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, students who originally planned to travel to off-site locations for research had to quickly change plans and, in some cases, projects since travelling was not allowed. The CENRS sites provided alternate places for students to conduct field research since these natural lands were available during state and national COVID-19 safety protocols. 

“A lot of the lab classes that were taught in the biology department were able to still continue instruction in person because these lands allowed for safe distancing,” said Lauren Kinsman-Costello, assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and director of CENRS. “Thanks to this, a lot of graduate and undergraduate students were able to continue progress on their research.” 

Chris Blackwood, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and co-director of the Environmental Science and Design Research Institute, explained that many graduate students were able to take their research home to analyze it in a safe, remote environment. 

A student working at the CENRS site

“My project actually came about because of COVID,” Katherine Manning, a third-year doctoral student  in the Department of Biological Sciences, said. “We contacted Lauren at CENRS about my potential project, and it worked out amazingly because I am a 10-minute drive from all my sites, when usually it would be hours to get to them.”

The CENRS sites give Kent State-affiliated faculty or students access to outdoor land for research and field studies in a more seamless way as opposed to using lands owned by others which require permits or permission to use. 

Of the 17 sites, the most used CENRS site is Jennings Woods, a 74-acre property purchased in 1966. This site is popular for researchers due to the fact it is rarely visited by the public, providing continuity in research. 

“This year, we wouldn’t have been able to conduct very much research without these sites, especially Jennings Woods,” fourth-year doctoral student Jordyn Stoll said. “It’s difficult to use public parks for research because people may accidently disrupt our study areas, so we are really lucky to have these sites.” 

Kinsman-Costello says that students should be more cognizant of the lands around Kent State and tells students to become more aware of the outreach, engagement and service opportunities that are available through these lands. 

“This is a gem of the Kent State system,” Kinsman-Costello said. “I want to invite students from other majors and people in the community to experience these lands to showcase the value in having them around.” 

Learn more about CENRS.

Learn more about the Department of Biological Sciences.

POSTED: Wednesday, March 31, 2021 - 9:34am
UPDATED: Thursday, April 22, 2021 - 10:31am
WRITTEN BY:
Ellie Dundics