Students exploring flora and fauna in a pond at Ohio Northern University's Metzger Nature Center.

A lesser-known fact: tucked away in the picturesque Eastern Ohio hills is an Ohio Northern University-owned locale that provides uncommon residential education opportunities. Totaling 78 acres with two facilities for extended living while learning, Metzger Nature Center is unlike any other college experience.
Located 160 miles from Ada, in Tuscarawas County just southeast of Wooster, the Center opened in 1990 and is available to all ONU campus community members. It has hosted activities ranging from writing retreats to engineering excursions.
To serve more visitors, Bolon Hall, named after former Board of Trustees member Robert Bolon, opened in 2001. There is classroom space and comfortable accommodations for sleeping, socializing, and dining. In the newer building, there’s also a wildlife observation station where visitors can sit behind a large window to unobtrusively see the area’s flora and fauna.
The Center’s most frequent visitors are Environmental and Field Biology students and faculty, who use it as a field station. Taking full advantage of the site’s natural resources and indoor amenities, the field biology classes that provide students with experiences that give them distinctive employment advantages. Participants gain firsthand knowledge about field botany, ornithology, entomology, ichthyology (the study of fish), animal behavior, and more. In 2011, students even identified a new species of red algae. After researchers confirmed the discovery, the students had the opportunity to name the new species.
This fall semester, 14 field biology students and four faculty immersed themselves in structured and spontaneous daytime and nighttime activities during their seven-week stay. By day, there were adventures such as kayaking, rappelling, water sampling and insect examining along with lessons that focused, for instance, on critical thinking skills. Numerous hikes taught students about concepts such as understory ecology and invasive species. By night, there were other astonishing things to observe, such as glow worms, screech owl calls, and orbiting Skynet telescopes.
“There are lots of opportunities that come out of the field semester,” said Bob Verb, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences and nature center director. “The nature center serves as an excellent location for this because of its study-away component. It allows students to focus on and gain access to environments that are a little bit different than we have around our Ada campus, providing them with epic opportunities. The results have been really positive in terms of job placement.”
“We’re fortunate to have this facility,” Verb continued of Metzger. “It’s an incredibly unique experience that we have at ONU. It really sets our program, and, most importantly, our students apart.”
Field semester students at Metzger are “not sitting at a desk taking notes. They’re actually in the field doing things. That’s invaluable to employers,” said Debbie Nofzinger, BS ‘91, Sandusky County (Ohio) Park District program supervisor and ONU adjunct instructor of biological sciences. This fall, she taught interpretive methodologies at Metzger, where she also studied as an undergraduate.
“Being able to come back and teach is so fantastic because I’ve been able to see the evolution of the program and what it’s become. It’s awe inspiring. It’s a little pocket in and of itself. The students are sort of sequestered here and it’s quiet. It’s very conducing to learning,” Nofzinger said.
Junior field biology major Isabelle Fisher, from Upper Arlington, Ohio, pointed out that “every different habitat has its own set of cool little critters to study,” providing students with myriad research opportunities. Her favorite insect find was a scarab beetle, shiny and iridescent.  “Our field biology major is pretty revered” among employers and students at and outside of ONU, she said.
Junior Katelin “Katie” Denslow from New London, Ohio, was enjoying learning map and compass work, orienteering, rappelling, and rock climbing. “The tree climbing was personally my favorite,” she said. Her biggest surprise: discovering she enjoys entomology, the study of insects.
A few owls took an interest in Grant Beck during his time at Metzger. A junior from Grand Rapids, Michigan, Beck is fascinated with birds and is learning how to call Eastern screech owls and barred owls.
Along with gaining valuable skills, ONU’s field biology experience, which also includes two weeks at the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory following their intensive Metzger Nature Center studies, helps students hone their career interests.
Fisher plans to go to law school to become an environmental lawyer. She recently worked with a firm on management planning aimed at acquiring a National Estuarine Research Reserve designation for about 40,000 acres in Wisconsin. “I think environmental law is important and is a flourishing area to work in. As we’re discovering new things… there’s been a trend to stop referring to our land as a resource and more as a system, which I think is really cool,” she said.
Denslow hopes to earn a master’s degree “in some form of ecology or behavioral ecology.”
Bird-lover Beck has his eye on a loon ranger summer internship position in Northern New York.
“There are a lot of different career options with this major because nature is all around us. It’s a bigger part of our lives than people realize,” Fisher said.
The late Henry L. Metzger, B.S. ’41, Hon. D. ‘94, and his wife, Geraldine Metzger, donated the property and Zimmer farmhouse through a charitable trust operated by the Canton-based Hillier Family Foundation. The foundation owned the facility until 2011, when ownership was transferred to Ohio Northern.