To those who know it well, the Walla Walla College (WWC) Marine Station at Rosario Beach is hallowed ground. It is a place removed from the rush of daily life, where students and professors need merely walk out of the classroom and down to the beach to be immersed in the beauty of God’s creation.
It is a place where study of the natural world and study of its Creator are seamlessly integrated. This integration, many believe, makes Rosario the best possible place to study biology.
“There is something transcendent about recognizing God as Creator,” says Joe Galusha, professor of biology at WWC and a former director of the marine station. “In a natural environment, and when we’re studying complex science, we see evidence all around us that God is Creator. I think that’s a very important reinforcement no matter what your biological specialty.”
The marine station, which celebrated its 50th anniversary on August 29 and sits on 45 acres of largely undisturbed biological preserve, provides a unique opportunity for research and study in an increasingly diminishing natural ecosystem. It is currently the only active academic Adventist marine field station.
Each summer, this pristine environment becomes home to between 45 and 55 biology students from WWC and other Adventist institutions. During the session, students and faculty spend two months focusing exclusively on biological study and research.
A unique spirit of cooperation exists within the academic fabric of the station. An affiliation between WWC and nine other Adventist institutions brings visiting professors to the station each summer, enabling the station to offer a wide range of classes.
The knowledge students gain in lecture and on extended field trips at Rosario is complemented by experiments and research projects. With the ocean, mountains, and rain forest of western Washington and the arid terrain east of the Cascades all within a few hours' drive, students have the unique opportunity for hands-on study of many different environments.
“Oceans cover 70 to 75 percent of the earth’s surface and yet rarely do students have the opportunity to study that type of environment,” says James Nestler, professor of biology at WWC and current station director. “Here, we give them that opportunity.”
WWC biology instructors feel that the chance to study marine biology is important for students no matter which careers they choose to pursue.
“Seeing how living things fit together is very valuable for a scientist of any ilk, but especially in biology we see how things depend on each other,” Galusha says. “So if you’re going to do medicine, dentistry, or physical therapy, being aware that not only is there an interrelationship of systems within the body, but also among the world’s ecological systems, is crucial. I think that the concept of relatedness becomes very clear as one sees and feels and senses natural things.”
Nestler also cites the value of the scientific research and discovery students are exposed to. “Knowing how to ask questions and delve into ways to answer those questions is very important,” he says.
This focus on research and hands-on study dates back to 1938, when the department of biological sciences began offering outdoor summer classes. Such classes became permanent in 1955, when the first summer session was held at the newly acquired marine station at Rosario Beach. The Rosario campus was added thanks to the vision of Ernest S. Booth, chairman of the department at the time, who used $15,000, his life savings, as earnest money on the property before the WWC board approved the purchase. Approval came later, with the stipulation that Booth make no more financial commitments without prior approval.
More recently, the marine station has been given a fresh face with the addition of six new cabins and Lindgren Hall, a state-of-the-art classroom and dining facility. The vision to improve the campus for future students continues, with plans for six additional cabins and a laboratory/classroom that would enable WWC to expand the station’s academic use beyond the summer quarter.
These changes and Rosario’s rich tradition of spirituality integrated with study were celebrated last summer as decades of “Rosario-ites” gathered to mark the station’s 50th anniversary.
Most touching, Galusha says, was the feeling of camaraderie evident among the throng of past Rosario students and professors. This camaraderie is no doubt a reflection of the deep bonds that develop as students eat, worship and learn together in a place that is devoid of distractions, and where God is very real and personal.
“I think it has something to do with being on the edge of nature,” says Galusha. “It just changes the pace of life.”
And for those who know Rosario, it changes people, too.
“I always get my spiritual batteries recharged every summer at Rosario,” Nestler says. “Even though I’m very busy, there are still those moments when I can get away, sit quietly, and watch the ocean or forest, seals or eagles. In those small moments of time, you can definitely hear God’s voice speaking to you, and you can speak back.”