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Keiser Distinguished Lectureship in the Life Sciences Features Dr. Alan Steinman

Dr. Steinman with students (Photo/Trevor Jones)

Every year, the Keiser Distinguished Lectureship in the Life Sciences features a world renowned ecological or biological scientist.    Dr. Jay Mager, chair of the Keiser Distinguished Lectureship in Life Sciences, says that the goal of lectureship is to “promote dialogue and interaction between students and internationally renowned biologists”.  This year’s Keiser Distinguished Lectureship in the Life Sciences featured Dr. Alan Steinman, director of Grand Valley State University’s Annis Water Resources Institute.

The Lectureship was named in honor of Professor Terry D. Keiser.  Professor Keiser is the director of ONU's Metzger Nature Center.  Professor Keiser also played a key role in establishing the ONU Tidd-Oakes Farm, a 300-acre wetlands restoration project.  In the words of this years featured scientist, the lectureship is a “tribute both to Terry Keiser, whose modesty is exceeded only by his generosity, and the entire ONU community”.

Dr. Steinman’s research focuses on conserving the Great Lakes water resources.  He’s testified before the US congress and the US house of representatives as an expert on ecosystem restoration, geoscience research, and the coastal economy.

When asked what students can gain from the experience, Dr. Mager replied that “students are presented with new ways of thinking, not just about the environment, but perhaps intrinsically about themselves”.  Specifically, Dr. Mager discusses how “we know a lot about renewable sources of energy, but I think this tries to get you to think at a personal level about your values”.  Dr. Mager says this exposure to ethical conflict is “what college is all about”. 

Dr. Steinman interacted with students from a wide variety of concentrations including chemistry, biology, law, and geology during the lectureship.  Dr. Steinman also met with professional organizations and engaged in field study conducted by environmental biology students. 

Dr. Steinman reports that he was “very impressed with the students and their questions, both after the lectures and during classroom interactions”.  He says that the depth of their inquiries illustrates the “quality education” which ONU provides.

In the first lecture of the series, “Ecosystem Restoration from the Everglades to the Great Lakes: Fact, Fiction, and (Occasional) Frustration”, Dr. Steinman addresses environmental issues facing Lake Okeechobee and Lake Michigan.  Lake Okeechobee is currently being overwhelmed by rising phosphorous levels due to the agriculture industry.  Dr. Steinman states that high phosphorous loads stimulate harmful algal blooms, which negatively affect native organisms by producing a variety of toxins. Dr. Steinman’s current research in the Great Lakes focuses on monitoring and restricting the growth of these algal blooms.  

Dr. Steinman’s studies of Lake Michigan address the distribution of urban storm water and introduction of invasive species.  Impermeable surfaces such as roads prevent water from infiltrating into the ground, which can cause pollution.  Storm water runoff can also decrease discharge to aquifers, resulting in an increased rate of erosion and sedimentation.  Additionally, runoff can be toxic to stream biota and cause an increased cost of infrastructure maintenance. Through his research efforts, Dr. Steinman hopes to suggest alternative solutions to the displacement of storm water in order to decrease the negative impact of urban runoff.

Over 180 invasive species have been introduced to the Great Lakes, and this may threaten the livelihood of native species due to competition for resources.  Dr. Steinman aims to monitor the impact of invasive species on the native ecosystem of Lake Michigan and suggest solutions in order to decrease the probability of extinction of these endemic organisms.

Dr. Steinman tells listeners that it is important to “vote wisely” on issues concerning environmental policy and “change our behavior” regarding simple water conservation in homes and facilities in order to help address these environmental crises.