NWIC center dedicated to environmental research

Oct 31st, 2013 | By | Category: 25-2: Tribal and Behavioral Health, Tribal College News
By Ryan Key Wynne
SEA RESEARCH CENTER. NWIC’s new Salish Sea Research Center will serve as a research hub for students, faculty, and college partners alike.

SEA RESEARCH CENTER. NWIC’s new Salish Sea Research Center will serve as a research hub for students, faculty, and college partners alike.

Northwest Indian College (NWIC, Bellingham, WA) has opened a new $2.2 million building on its main Lummi reservation campus that will take science research capabilities at the college to new heights. The new space will allow students and faculty to conduct environmental research which supports healthy, clean, and vibrant environments that sustain tribal people.

The 4,200-square-foot building was aptly named the Salish Sea Research Center, as the Salish Sea has sustained tribes along its coast for centuries. Research at NWIC, in turn, will now help support the health of the Salish Sea’s waters and shorelines.

“While the name of the center contains ‘Salish Sea,’ we are by no means exclusively marine-focused. We are also laying the groundwork for an outdoor teaching and research program for native plants on campus,” said Dr. Marco Hatch, associate director of the National Indian Center for Marine Environmental Research and Education (NICMERE), which is located on NWIC’s campus.

The facility supports research in all programs of study, particularly the college’s Bachelor of Science in Native Environmental Science program, and it increases opportunities for hands-on research, giving students the experience needed to succeed in the workplace and in graduate school. The center also helps foster partnerships with federal, state, and tribal organizations.

“The Salish Sea Research Center provides our students the opportunity to work with faculty to engage in research projects and develop their science and technical skills,” NWIC president Justin Guillory said. “Of course the building itself is great, but the learning that will occur inside the building is where our mission as a tribal college comes alive. New buildings help us build more students.”

NWIC is planning research projects for the center, including a collaboration with Western Washington University and Washington State University’s Whatcom County Extension that examines Bellingham Bay nutrient and oxygen dynamics. Also, in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, and Lummi Natural Resources, NWIC researchers are studying the dynamics of red tides.

The building includes five main laboratories, a biology room, a wet lab, a live lab, an ecology room, and an analytical chemistry room. “We also have a dedicated room for microscopes to sort samples and count phytoplankton,” Hatch said. “And I know everyone is excited about the mud room, so now we don’t have to drag the muck and mire from the intertidal through our offices.”

In addition to the environment, another focus of the center’s research will be on the history of human interaction with Salish Sea lands and waters. “People have always been here, and in this center we ask what lessons can be learned about how they promoted sustainability, about how they interacted with this place in a respectful manner,” Hatch explained. “One example of this work is the partnership with the Heiltsuk First Nation looking at the ecological impacts of a traditional form of aquaculture called clam gardens.”

The Salish Sea Research Center was funded by a generous grant from the National Science Foundation and by NWIC’s $44 million capital campaign, which has led to significant growth at the college in recent years. Since 2005, eight new buildings have been constructed on the college’s main campus alone, and two more buildings will open within a year as a result of campaign contributions. All of that physical growth supports the college’s evolution as a bachelor’s degree-granting institution.

Land was also a major factor in the center’s development. “I want to acknowledge the Kwina family for providing the land to grow the NWIC campus,” President Guillory said. “This new building would not be possible without the land to build upon.”

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