From Utah Valley University’s field station inside Capitol Reef National Park, visitors can see millions of stars and hundreds of millions of years into the geologic past. The field station has marked its 10th anniversary and is growing, with a recent ribbon-cutting for an expansion that provides space dedicated for teaching, observation, additional outdoor teaching and for research instruments.
“It is so exciting to facilitate a partnership between UVU and Capitol Reef National Park,” said Michael T. Stevens, director of Capitol Reef field station. “The field station helps connect university students with the park in meaningful ways. Students learn about park resources in the context of their majors and come away with a lasting appreciation for protected public lands and place-based learning.”
The field station is one of only 10 in the country operated by a university within a national park. It opened in 2008, but had its inception earlier.
“In 1996, Bill and Margaret Pope gave money to the idea of a field station,” Stevens said.
That endowment helped fund the initial facility and the interest it has earned has provided the majority of the funding for the additions. The rest of the funding came from other private donations. The field station is the second UVU building to be built entirely with private funding. The first was the Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism on the university’s main Orem campus.
Since its inception, the station has seen increased use each year. User days (visitors multiplied by the days of the visit) increased almost four-fold from 710 the first year to 2,636 in the 2017-18 year. All eight of UVU’s colleges and schools have used the facility. The majority of visitors are from UVU, but other universities and academic institutions, both from Utah and outside the state, are also represented.
With the increasing number of visitors, the need arose for additional space. Staff members did a survey of the users and found they wanted additional teaching and learning space. Previously, teaching had been done in a multipurpose room, which required removal of learning materials to provide a place for meals and other activities.
The College of Science accounts for the largest number of user days from the university. Astronomy students find the conditions favorable due to the minimal artificial lighting in the area.
“Capitol Reef National Park and the field station take special measures to ensure the preservation of this resource, helping to retain the park’s designation as an International Dark-Sky Park,” a report on the field station states. “Our powerful telescopes give visitors the opportunity to see Saturn’s rings or the Andromeda Galaxy, inspiring a deeper appreciation of the natural dark-night sky as a resource worth protecting.”
“It is a great place to see the stars,” Stevens said. He said it is also a good place to monitor the ionosphere, which is another use science students and faculty pursue at the station.
Other disciplines that have used the field station have ranged from financial literacy to invertebrate zoology. Dental hygiene students put on a free clinic for patients from several surrounding counties. Environmental communication students learned about their field along with performing graffiti removal to enhance the park.
Other university field stations are used primarily for research projects by graduate students or staff. UVU’s students follow a different plan. Of 644 visitors in the recent year, 545 of those were undergraduates, Stevens said.
“One of the strengths of our field station is that our primary use is for engaged learning,” he said. “Our typical visit is when a classroom of students comes to the station and they actually experience the things they have talked about in class.”
The station’s mission statement indicates engaged learning as one of its main focuses. The others are research, scholarly and creative activities, and environmental ethics through the exploration of the Colorado Plateau.