MUSKEGON — The four new graduate degrees that Grand Valley State University will begin offering next year in biology will provide a boost to the academic programming at the Lake Michigan Center in Muskegon.
Beginning in the fall of 2003, Grand Valley will offer graduate degrees in biology that focus on cell and molecular biology, natural resources management, general biology and water resources.
The water resources emphasis, which GVSU will offer at the Lake Michigan Center, will focus on three themes: fisheries and limnology, watershed management, and aquatic toxicology management, said Alan Steinman, director of GVSU’s Annis Water Resources Institute in Muskegon.
The newly constructed center is situated on the Muskegon Lake waterfront about two blocks east of Heritage Landing and adjoins a large mooring basin proposed as a site for a naval museum and as a terminal for renewed cross-lake ferry service.
Steinman told the Business Journal that offering the graduate degree in biology and water resources at the Lake Michigan Center was not part of the original plan for the facility.
A high level of interest in such a program from professionals in the area who otherwise don’t have that kind of graduate program available in West Michigan spurred GVSU to consider it, he said.
“As the vision evolved, people at the university recognized there was tremendous value in this,” Steinman said. “We fill a niche.”
The graduate program in biology will enable professionals working in the field to enhance their training and career path, either in the private or public sector, as well as their understanding of how an ecosystem works.
To Grand Valley, offering the program brings a certain level of prestige for the university and the Lake Michigan Center, a $5.5 million academic and freshwater research facility on the shores of Muskegon Lake that GVSU opened a year ago.
“It’s an important step for the institute,” Steinman said. “It also enhances our visibility and credibility. It shows we’ve matured to the point where we now have critical mass and the expertise to offer those graduate programs.”
While GVSU still needs to work out details of the graduate courses, the program offered at the Lake Michigan Center will require 33 credit hours, with a mixture of classroom and research work.
Students in the program will participate in a myriad of research projects the Annis Water Resource Institute has undertaken.
The new and ongoing major projects include assessing the water quality of the lower Grand River from Grand Rapids to Grand Haven, a two-year chemical assessment of Mona Lake and its watershed, and continuing work on assessing the Muskegon River and addressing contamination in White Lake.
Mona Lake is a residential lake in Norton Shores that for decades received industrial and municipal sewage from Muskegon Heights. It also drains an agricultural corridor in the southern tier of townships in Muskegon County.
White Lake and Muskegon Lake also were degraded for years by serious industrial pollution which, for the most part, has abated due to Muskegon County’s two unique wastewater management systems and by gradual removal of industries from the lakes’ shores.
By comparison to Mona Lake, the Muskegon, White and Grand River watersheds are gargantuan.
As the institute expands research efforts in western Michigan, Steinman said it is also undergoing a review of how it operates.
A science advisory board is presently analyzing the institute and will issue a report soon that offers advice and “constructive criticism,” said Steinman, who joined GVSU last September.
The goal of the review is to gauge the institute’s status and to improve its operations, Steinman said.
“We wanted to see where we stand, what we do well, what we do poorly and what we need to do and get better,” he said.
The institute’s 20,000-square-foot building houses classrooms, labs, conference rooms and offices. The institute also is the home base for the W.G. Jackson, a research vessel named after a Muskegon chemical industry entrepreneur. Moored nearby is a University of Michigan lake research vessel.