Family Helping Family

SIU College of Agricultural Sciences

When alumni and supporters think of SIU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, the word “family” often springs to mind.

Seburn Pense, professor of agricultural education, recently was quoted in the College of Agricultural Sciences’ spring e-newsletter as saying, “Students come here and they see the campus and the facilities. They see that this college is like a family.”

Karen Midden, associate dean and professor for the college, agrees.

“The College of Ag really is just an excellent college with so much to offer its students,” Midden says. “We are very much like a family. The university farms provide hands-on experience for the students. It’s a backbone of the animal science teaching program, (and) it’s critical for agronomy and horticulture as well. The leading research at the farms provides experiential learning and prepares students for jobs in industry and academia, or to pursue graduate degrees.”

Right now, University Farms is in need of some assistance in several areas. The 2,000-acre farm system has significant upkeep needs – and, with the budget cuts and restricted spending in place across campus, the college hopes alumni will step forward and help.

After all, that’s what families do.

The following are areas that need assistance:

Research Greenhouse

SIU College of Agricultural Sciences Research Greenhouse

When visiting the research greenhouses where students do significant research on soybeans and tomato plants, the need for updates is evident. As Midden explains: “The SIU research greenhouses were built sometime in the 1950s and are extremely outdated. What they need is to update their systems.”

The soil in all research greenhouses must first be sterilized before any planting can begin. To sterilize the soil, SIU greenhouse employees use a soil steamer. Unfortunately, the steamer no longer works, so employees must borrow one, which is inconvenient in scheduling and transporting.

The heating and cooling systems are in need of modernization, which would include the replacement of pipes, thermostats and vent motors. The propane boiler, which heats the greenhouse, also needs to be repaired or replaced.

Swine and Beef Centers

SIU College of Agricultural Sciences sanitation truck

At the farm’s swine and beef centers, a sanitation truck is used to transport the manure from the livestock areas. This truck, which is between 25 and 30 years old, has a faulty engine in need of repair. The centers also have several tractors more than 50 years old that require constant repairs and upgrades.

Perhaps one of the biggest needs is for an automated hog feeder. Currently, an SIU employee must hand-feed the hogs each day, hauling between 50 and 60 buckets every morning, seven days a week.

Colten Collier, senior agricultural research technician, also points out fencing that needs repair at the beef center.

Colten Collier, senior agricultural research technician, also points out fencing that needs repair at the beef center.

“Bulls often break through these fences to get to the cows, and we don’t have the lumber to replace it,” Collier says. “So we patch it as best we can.”

But Collier says the fences are not the only issue.

“One of the challenges we face is that we can’t put the cows in several of the pens, because the watering system is so old that it can’t hold water any longer,” he says. “If there’s no water, then the space can’t be used for the cattle.”

Service Center

SIU College of Agricultural Sciences Service Center

In the farm’s service center sits the farm’s only combine, used to service 700 acres of corn and beans. The motor for the combine is more than 25 years old and is in constant need of repair.

“Our herbicide sprayer burned out six years ago, so now we contract that service out,” Midden says. “The problem with contracting is that we can’t control when we get the spraying done. That’s critical, because there is such a small window of when to spray and when to plant. It would be nice if we could control the timing to suit our needs.”

University Farms is more than a working farm system. It’s also a classroom, a laboratory and a social scene for students who learn and work at SIU. Students conduct feed efficiency research projects and learn animal husbandry at the beef and swine centers, and they conduct soil fertility and plant growth research projects in the research greenhouse. Some of these projects are faculty-mentored student studies, while others are faculty research with student assistants, but everything at the farms contributes to the hands-on learning community the College of Agricultural Sciences created.

Monetary donations to support these areas of the farm or donating actual items is the best way to ensure University Farms continues its success.

To learn more about the College of Agricultural Sciences’ University Farms program, visit To learn more about the needs of the College of Agricultural Sciences, visit

Exploration at SIU’s Center for Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences

SIU Center for Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Aquatic Sciences

Fathead minnows under research at the SIU’s Center for Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences.

Some hidden gems across campus go unnoticed because of their geographic locations, and such is the case for the McLafferty Annex research facility.

Located on the outskirts of campus, the 65,000-square-foot annex holds a state-of-the-art research facility that houses SIU’s Center for Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences.

SIU Center for Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Aquatic Sciences

“The research in fisheries, aquaculture and aquatic sciences goes far beyond what most people would think about in relation to fish,” said Andy Coursey, researcher and manager of the massive facility. “We have graduate and undergraduate researchers who come in and do research projects. SIU’s marine biology program sends students over to study our starfish and crabs. The behavioral analysis and therapy programs come here to work with octopus and zebrafish to learn more about cognitive development, autism and behavioral psychology.”

SIU Center for Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Aquatic Sciences

He added: “We have a major project currently going on researching the federally endangered pallid sturgeon species. This facility is used by many disciplines, and we are proud of it.”

The building has 17,000 square feet of aquatic research space, significantly more than most other universities. The Saluki Aquarium measures 7,000 square feet, while the Wetlab production facility is slightly larger, at 10,000 square feet.

Coursey also manages the 90 research ponds at the Touch of Nature site along with a 7½-acre reservoir. He allots space to research projects and assists students, who do a majority of the labor, fish harvesting and feeding, and equipment maintenance, too.

SIU Center for Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Aquatic Sciences

Because of the space and facility, SIU students receive plenty of hands-on experience in their major.

“Our students also have a very high success rate of receiving job offers when they graduate,” Coursey said. “Many of our graduates go directly to work for the federal and state governments, along with private companies such as Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill – just some of the big-name employers who are hiring our students.”

“There is so much to be proud of,” Coursey added. “Just a few weeks ago, Archer Daniels Midland aquatic research and development came to tour our facilities so they can update their research system to replicate SIU’s facility.”

Along with these many points of pride comes the reality of funding.

“It costs a lot to maintain Infrastructure and research systems, along with funding needed to conduct high-quality research,” Coursey said.


Besides funding for the maintenance, the ultimate funding dream is to finish the construction of an 8,000-gallon display aquarium. The initial phase of the Aquatic Research Laboratory and Saluki Aquarium began in 2012 but is on hold pending additional funding. The cost to complete the aquarium stands at $350,000.

“It’s our dream that this world-class aquatic facility and aquarium will enable SIU to continue our important work in promoting greater understanding of, and education about, our precious aquatic resources,” Coursey said.

To learn more about supporting the project through Forever SIU: The Campaign for Students, visit, or contact the foundation at 618/453-4900 or