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SMC, IUSB tackle invasive species together

Southwestern Michigan College and Indiana University South Bend honors students re-teamed Oct. 26 to catalog and contain invasive species in the pollinator field at the southeast corner of the Dowagiac campus. For Earth Day in April 2018, SMC traveled to South Bend to help IUSB clean up St. Joseph River banks. Alternating fall/spring collaborations will continue. “It’s a way to bring the classroom to real life,” said Gary Franchy, SMC Honors Program co-founder with fellow mathematics instructor Mark Pelfrey.

A panel discussion in the Student Activity Center theatre preceded work outdoors and involved Vic Bogosian, Pokagon Band of Potawatomi natural resources manager for the federally-recognized tribe’s 6,500 acres across Michigan and Indiana; Krista Bailey, IUSB Center for a Sustainable Future director; invasive species specialist Eleanor Serocki; and SMC science instructors Deirdre Kurtis and Donna Courtney.

Joint service day participants split into three groups — counters, determining the number of species within a two-foot-square grid, moving around the habitat; pullers, removing the purplish invasive species spotted knapweed; and hackers armed with loppers and saws, cutting invasive woody species crowding out prairie species and increasing tick habitat.

Horticulturist Stacey Rocklin, Michigan State University Institute of Agricultural Technology coordinator at SMC, said, “We want to do a prescribed burn in the spring. That’s a management tool that allows native species to get a better foothold while keeping non-native species in check. I hope this sparks somebody’s interest to a career in plant sciences. I was an English major who wanted to be a writer when I started at MSU, but quickly realized it involved a lot of sitting, and I couldn’t do that.”

After trying an art history class that wasn’t a good fit, Rocklin took an introduction to greenhouse growing which did grab her interest. “Before that I had no idea I liked plants,” she said. “Working in my mom’s garden growing up, on my great-grandfather’s farm and with our many neighbors who had ranches when my family lived in Wyoming in the 1980s actually proved useful to my career.”

Rocklin’s lack of math confidence informs current work with students. “Careers in ag rely heavily on math. Lots of us come out of high school thinking we cannot (do math). I try to help students understand this should not hold them back as the math we use in ag is very practical. With a bit of extra work they can be successful in a math class, too. It helps that the staff at SMC is great and gives students help they need to be successful in both future courses and their careers.”

Serocki, CISMA (Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas) coordinator for Cass, Berrien and Van Buren counties through Van Buren Conservation District, said non-native species “produce a lot of pollen, but it’s short-lived so there’s not much biodiversity. Someone like me covers every county in the state. We’re one of the first states with full coverage.”

Serocki earned a Michigan Technological University degree in applied ecology, initially working for her alma mater researching a species detrimental to wetlands and bird habitat that lowers property values.

“Knapweed is a pest that has been here a long time,” Serocki said. “It crowds out native species in open areas which don’t have the best soil quality, like old farm fields. It lowers food and habitat for other animals. It pushes out milkweed, which butterflies need. It also is an allelopathic species, putting out poison through its roots so other plants can’t grow.”

The pollinator field originated with Pheasants Forever, which supports an SMC scholarship. SMC students helped the conservation group write a seed grant, then the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi planted the patch.

“We use this as a learning lab for quite a few MSU classes,” from pruning trees to insect collection, Rocklin said. “We have grapes getting started by the greenhouse” and bee hives measured by BroodMinder, a wireless monitor which logs and stores data downloadable by cell phone. “We want to put in apples and some other fruit trees for an orchard,” Rocklin said.

Andrea Lee, of Hudson, president of Collegiate Farm Bureau, SMC’s agricultural club, found the collaboration “awesome. All of the students here are actively participating.”

Students discovered a huge Osage Orange shrub near Mathews Street. Fallen bumpy fruit known as “hedge apples” looked like a carpet of yellow tennis balls and can be used to repel spiders.

Collaborative efforts between SMC and IUSB extend beyond the honors programs.  At the same time these students and faculty worked together on invasive species, administrators and staff from both institutions were collaborating in South Bend on transfer partnerships between SMC associate programs in health and IUSB bachelor programs.

The SMC-IUSB partnership also extends into business with the addition of advertising, marketing, health services management, accounting, finance, human resource management and general business pathways for students interested in continuing to a four-year degree while staying in Michiana.

Visit for more on SMC’s Honors Program