The rich biodiversity surrounding Highlands Biological Station attracts researchers from around the world, and Scott Higgins, dean of the Graduate School and Research, takes pride knowing Western faculty are among them. Higgins just wishes more of the students conducting research at the nearby interinstitutional research station in Highlands were Catamounts.
“When I have visited Highlands Biological Station, I found more University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill students studying there than Western students,” said Higgins, whose experience led him to contribute to a new Highlands Biodiversity Scholarship. “I want to help more WCU students afford to conduct research at this unique, pristine laboratory, which is unlike any other in the state.”
UNC–CH currently sponsors the only residential, semester-long program for college students at the station. Western students can apply to be one of the 12 students in the program offered through the UNC Institute for the Environment, but, to participate, they have to pay the difference in tuition—about $2,000.
“This new scholarship at Western helps an outstanding undergraduate biology or environmental sciences student cover the difference,” said Higgins.
The scholarship, funded this year by the Graduate School and Research, was the brainchild of Higgins and Jim Costa, director of Highlands Biological Station and also a member of the WCU biology faculty.
“We realized that a good way to encourage a Western student to participate would be to help pay the difference in the tuition fee between the schools,” said Costa. The first scholarship was made to Anna Vandenbergh, a rising junior majoring in environmental sciences.
Higgins said ultimately WCU would like to host its own semester-in-residence program for biology students at Highlands Biological Station. The recent collaboration of several WCU departments and the station to create the Southern Appalachian Biodiversity and Ecology Center is a step in that direction, he said.
“We are planting the flag in the mountains toward becoming a center for the UNC system in mountain biodiversity and ecology research,” said Higgins. “Just as Wilmington has marine science, Cullowhee has unique opportunities for research in the mountains. Russ Lea, outgoing vice president for research for the UNC system, has wanted this campus to do this for years, and we are going to do it.”