By Cynthia Drake, M.A. '08
Reprinted from Centralight, Summer 2016
CMU's "northern campus," as some call it, is an island only accessible by plane or boat and sometimes neither, when the weather's nasty.
People still leave the keys in their cars here. The community school is one building for K-12, and fewer than 100 students attend. It's a place where everybody really does know your name.
CMU's Biological Station on Beaver Island celebrates its 50th anniversary this year as an important outpost for university scientific research and summer courses.
The university purchased lakefront property on the island for $1 in 1942. Now it includes a multi-million-dollar academic center with lecture halls and labs and its own 28-foot research vessel named the M/V Chippewa, which moors in the municipal marina.
"I don't know too many computer labs that have a view of Lake Michigan," says Carolyn Works, the university's food services director.
Works, '80, has been there 35 years as a student, employee and a yearlong resident of one of Michigan's most unique, beautiful and unforgiving places.
"I loved observing nature," Works remembers of her first years on the island 30 miles out from Charlevoix's pristine Lake Michigan shoreline.
"When I came up here for the summer, I brought my sketching stuff and my books to write in. I just love this place. I like the air. Beaver Island's the kind of place that you either love it or you hate it. Or you fall in love with the place and do anything to stay here."
Works, who eventually met her husband, John, on the island, took the third option and happily remained there thanks to her position with CMU.
In addition to the diehard year-round locals and the people who own vacation homes there, every summer brings a crop of college students.
"Every year you see master's candidates up here to work, Ph.D. candidates doing field research. ...It can be a real intellectual atmosphere," says Works.
CMU researchers have studied a host of issues confronting Michigan wildlife there. Some of it hits close to home on Beaver Island, like when CMU teamed up with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study the growing cormorant population and its effect on local fish.
The university nurtures its relationship with the island and its community, even though the station is five miles from where the locals, live, work and shop.
Works once presented a slideshow to the community of photos she captured as part of a class she took in the 1980s. And each year, the Biological Station hosts a community open house to showcase the research CMU does on water quality and invasive species in the Great Lakes.
Works enjoys living with a foot in both the town and the university, and fostering new connections to the place she's proud to call home.