Greenhouse to expand research, education, sustainability efforts

By Holly Jay
Life Editor

Since its dedication on May 11, 2007, White Hall — home to Union’s science and nursing departments — has benefited many students. Many Unionites, however, may not realize that the complete vision for White Hall developed by Union’s leaders in 2005 has yet to be fully realized. The addition of a greenhouse has not happened.

“It was always a part of the vision for the building but it wasn’t funded,” said Dr. Mark Bolyard, professor of biology and department chair.

The biology department has been actively working on a plan for the past four years to fully develop the plant sciences department by building a greenhouse and hiring a full-time plant scientist. This semester, half of that plan was accomplished through the hiring of Dr. Michael Schiebout, assistant professor of biology.

“I see myself as filling a niche within the broader biology department,” Schiebout said. He recently graduated with his Ph.D in Biological Education from the University of Northern Colorado, where he said his dissertation “was focused on plant community response to disturbances.”

The remaining half of this project, the greenhouse, is slated for construction in Spring 2013. This addition to the east side of White Hall will be a 26 by 36 foot climate controlled structure, according Schiebout. Construction will begin once full funding is acquired.

The addition of a greenhouse to the biology department facilities will allow the teaching of more plant science courses, expand research opportunities for biology students and create a connection with the community, Bolyard said.

According to a biology department brochure, the greenhouse will contribute research expansion to Union students in a variety of areas, including plant biotechnology, plant-based biofuels, plant tissue culture, plant-based medical research, plant interactions and food production.

“Understanding plant life has been crucial to the development of human societies since God placed Adam in the garden to cultivate it,” the brochure stated. “The goal is to equip students for Christ-centered excellence in the plant sciences. In fact, current scientific advances have brought plant sciences to the academic forefront in a number of areas.”

According to the brochure, plans for the greenhouse include an environmental growth chamber, which is “a state-of-the-art instrument (that) would greatly increase the range of projects in which students and faculty could be engaged.” This chamber will make up approximately half the cost of the greenhouse’s total projected cost of $137,000.

“The greenhouse would greatly affect me,” Robyn Reynolds, junior biology major, said, “The addition of the greenhouse could be utilized to make a much stronger learning environment. Those plants that die in the winter would be accessible year round.”

Reynolds’ senior research project is focused on one tree. Currently she has to drive to the West Tennessee Research and Education Center to see it, as they are graciously hosting it in their greenhouse she said. She added that it would be much more convenient to have a greenhouse on campus as it would make plant research much more accessible.

“In my current botany class, we discussed that studying plants is another way of examining the beauty and intricate design of God’s creations,” Reynolds said. “I believe that this new greenhouse will be beneficial to a number of students. It will definitely be another new aspect added to Union that opens the gate to learning even wider.”

Megan Nettle, junior biology major, said her research on the African Mahogany tree would also be directly impacted by the addition of a greenhouse.

“For me, studying plants is about more than just gaining knowledge. It is about applying this knowledge to help improve people’s lives,” Nettle said. “The addition of a greenhouse on the Union University campus would impact my and any other important research projects that can help us reach out to our community and the world.”

The addition of a greenhouse at Union will not only contribute to biology research, but it will also be a part of a broader plan to encourage sustainability on campus.

Carrie Phillips, recently appointed as Union’s sustainability coordinator, will work in the greenhouse getting plants ready to go in the ground in a on-campus garden projected to start in the spring.

“My job is to start conversations on campus geared toward sustainability, taking care of the land and using our resources wisely,” Phillips said.

Dr. Kimberly Thornbury, senior vice president for student services and dean of students, has contributed to conversations regarding sustainability on Union’s campus.

“Regardless of where you personally stand on these issues, it is important for all Christians to have thought through these issues,” Thornbury said. “Currently, sustainability makes financial sense at Union … Discussion of where our food comes from is a national issue, with serious implications for health and the economy and ethics.”

As with any large-scale project, progress can not happen without funding. Some donations for the greenhouse will be able to pay for the materials to build the facility. Namely, the graduating classes of 2009 and 2011 have decided to contribute their designated class gift money towards the building of the greenhouse.

Thornbury said she approached these classes about considering this option after previous gift ideas had developed as expected.

The current need for the greenhouse project remains at approximately $93,000, most of which is going towards the environmental chamber.

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.