Program Spotlight: Environmental Science

Students take field trip to Vermillion River to study macroinvertebrate aquatic life

Environmental Science students at Inver Hills Community College recently traveled to the Vermillion River in Hastings, Minnesota, to collect samples of riverine macroinvertebrates. The students were tasked with measuring macroinvertebrate diversity as one important way to determine the river’s level of health.

Joe Beattie serves as faculty in the college’s Environmental Science and Biology programs. Joe includes numerous field trips in his curriculum to give his students hands-on experience investigating different ecosystems and approaches to sustainability.

“Studying the environment is one of the most important life sciences,” Joe said. “At least for now, we can only survive in one place, planet Earth. Because Earth is our only home, we need to more deeply understand and consequently protect the place where we live. Unfortunately, our planet is under assault from a litany of threats: climate change, loss and degradation of habitat, and an array of pollutants.”

Vermillion River

The Vermillion River is the largest stream in Dakota County. It starts near Elko, travels eastward across much of the central portion of the county until it discharges into the Mississippi River downstream of Hastings. The trout stream portion of the river starts just above Cedar Ave. and ends just downstream of Highway 52 bridge.

Species Present:
Brown Trout: average abundance, a wide variety of sizes are present, including some trophy size fish.
Rainbow Trout: average abundance, average size (stocked each year).

SOURCE: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

More about the field trip…

Joe reported that students on the Vermillion River field trip employed a multi-habitat technique to collect benthic macroinvertebrates, which are large, spineless creatures that inhabit the bottom of the river. The students collected benthic macroinvertebrate samples from multiple habitats to gain a broad picture of life present in the river. Habitats included:

  • Riffle habitat (shallow, fast-moving water)
  • Leaf pack (wads of fall leaves)
  • Overhanging vegetation
  • Snags (twigs or logs)

“Students first learn how to identify benthic macroinvertebrates to the family level using a guidebook,” Joe said. “Identification to the family level is needed to discern differences in pollution tolerance among macroinvertebrate groups. After gaining facility in identification, students identify their samples from the Vermillion River. Once identified, the students calculate measures of river health based on their samples. These measures included simple measures like the number of macroinvertebrate families and more sophisticated measures like the family biotic index.”

Field trips are a vital component of environmental studies. Joe explained: “Traditional means of learning, like lecture and reading, help students absorb large amounts of knowledge. Field trips help students directly connect with an area of learning. Hopefully, they will more successfully retain that knowledge.”

Joe added that students can also gain a sense of river health by monitoring chemicals like nitrogen and phosphorus. “Many field professionals argue that macroinvertebrates provide a long-term picture of the environment whereas chemicals give a short-term snapshot.”

Vermillion River Field Trip gallery

View more field trip photos by visiting the Inver Hills Flickr album:

Environmental Science Vermillion River Field Trip Fall 2022

Student perspective: Karley Henson

Karley Henson

Karley Henson, 21, graduated from Lakeville South High School, Class of 2019. Karley is earning a Theatre Transfer Pathway Associate of Fine Arts (A.F.A.) and Associate of Arts (A.A.) at Inver Hills. A member of Phi Theta Kappa, she is looking at spring 2023 as her Inver graduation date, but is open to staying longer.

Karley has plans to transfer to the University of Minnesota Duluth. She has focused her career plans on working in the theater industry, preferably at the Guthrie Theater, while also living on a farm and working with animals. She is originally from Plainfield, Illinois, but considers Elko New Market, Minnesota, her hometown. Karley resides in Cannon Falls, Minnesota.

Three words that best describe you as a college student:


Karley Henson Q & A

What do you like best about your Environmental Science coursework?
 Such a wide range of work that all happens outside! From the livestock, gardens, and river studying invertebrates!

What did you find most interesting about the Vermillion River field trip?
Finding so many crayfish! It was so cool to see the variety of sizes—some were smaller than my pinky with some larger than my thumb.

What advice would you give students thinking about studying environmental science?
If you have a passion for it FOLLOW IT! Your passions can bring you some amazing places and will never leave you bored.

What is our planet’s most challenging environment crisis, e.g., climate change, pollution, environmental degradation, resource depletion (or other) and why?
I find that all of our planet’s crises are challenging, while none can really overrule another. We all need food, water, and healthy air, but, when we look at it, everything works together to make one big crisis. To fix those, we must look at each piece rather than the whole. If you ignore the rest, your Jenga tower will still tumble.

Karley’s Vermillion River Field Trip gallery

Previous Environmental Science field trips

Borner Farm Project

Environmental Science students took a field trip to the Borner Farm in Prescott, Wisconsin, in early October 2022. The Borner Farm Project, an example of small-scale farming, provides a contrast to large-scale industrial farming. The Inver students witnessed the value in developing soil, reducing synthetic fertilizers, and farming regeneratively.

Wetland monitoring near Inver campus

Environmental Science students investigated a stormwater pond adjacent to the Inver Hills campus from late August to mid-September 2022. The students followed the Wetland Health Evaluation Project protocol, using a bottle trap and dip net to measure the wetland’s health. By adhering to that protocol, they gained insight into experimental design, peer review, biological communities, and biological diversity.

Student perspective: Abigail Owings

Abigail Owings

Abigail “Abs” Owings, 16, will be graduating from Woodbury High School in the Class of 2024. Abs is a Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) student, and she’s earning her Associate of Science (A.S.) in Environmental Science at Inver Hills.

Abs is set on completing her associate degree in 2024 before transferring to the University of Florida or Brigham Young University-Idaho to pursue a bachelor’s degree. She has centered her career plans on meteorology or environmental science. Abs resides in Woodbury, Minnesota, her hometown.

One word that best describes you as a college student:


Abigail Owings Q & A

What do you like best about your Environmental Science coursework?
The labs.

What did you find most interesting about the Vermillion River field trip?
The different spots in the river for catching invertebrates.

What advice would you give students thinking about studying environmental science?
Keep an open mind; there are so many careers I never considered that I now can pursue.

What is our planet’s most challenging environment crisis, e.g., climate change, pollution, environmental degradation, resource depletion (or other) and why?
Climate change because it’s hard to keep a planet running and solve its problems if climate change is killing it.

Abigail’s Vermillion River Field Trip gallery

Faculty spotlight: Joe Beattie

Joe Beattie

Joe Beattie teaches Environmental Science courses at Inver Hills. Before arriving at Inver this fall semester, Joe taught field biology and biology at Hastings High School, starting in that role in 1994. He holds a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Education from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota and Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Biology from St. John’s University, where he minored in French, his second language.

Joe was named Hastings Teacher of the Year by Education Minnesota in 2018. He was recognized by the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts as the 2011 Minnesota Teacher of the Year. Two years earlier, the Dakota County Soil and Water Conservation District named him Outstanding Conservationist. In 2004, the University of Minnesota honored him with an Outstanding Science Teacher award.

Joe is a member of several environmental organizations, including The Prairie Enthusiasts, Minnesota Native Plant Society, and Friends of the Mississippi River. His teaching philosophy emphasizes helping students engage with the natural world in innovative ways. He is dedicated to active, hands-on learning based on experimentation and analysis.

Learn more about Environmental Science at Inver Hills by contacting:

Joe Beattie
Environmental Science and Biology Faculty
Inver Hills Community College

More about the Environmental Science program at Inver Hills…

Housed primarily within the Biology department, our Environmental Science curriculum is taught by faculty with wide-ranging expertise and experience.

Benefiting from small classes, hands-on labs, and off-campus field trips, you will work closely with accomplished instructors with proficiency in the relevant science as well as a commitment to your success both academically and professionally.

Why Study Environmental Science at Inver Hills?

Explore life for a living.
Encompassing a massive array of disciplines both basic and applied, the life sciences can be defined as the study of life. Career paths in the life sciences include biochemist, microbiologist, industrial pharmacist, environmental scientist, wildlife biologist, and food scientist for starters.

Gain hands-on, real-world research experience.
We offer myriad opportunities for field and lab work. Our faculty supervise student research projects both on and off campus. We have active scientific studies on our own campus, including environmental monitoring and restoration programs in our 40-acre natural area.

It’s not just an education, it’s an adventure.
We partner with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and other organizations to provide research and learning opportunities in state parks and other locations. We offer trips to Malaysia and Puerto Rico where you can get the chance to protect coral reefs and collect data for international university studies.

Find your perfect environment on campus.
As an environmental science student, you’ll get to collaborate with fellow students, faculty, and staff on projects designed to give Inver Hills a sustainable campus. Potential projects involve the Inver Hills Community Garden and Orchard and proposed Unity Trail. Inver Hills was the first community college in Minnesota to be certified as a Bee Campus USA.

Protect our one and only planet.
Environmental science illuminates the best ways to conserve the Earth’s resources and ecosystems. Human overpopulation and consumption threaten not only our own survival, but also the lives of the estimated 8.7 million animal and plant species sharing our fragile globe.

Solve the toughest problems of our times.
Studying environmental science gives you the tools to face down BIG challenges. Take your pick from desertification, deforestation, pollution, waste disposal, endangered species, climate change, overdevelopment, water scarcity, and so forth. The list isn’t getting any shorter.

Turn your passion for the wonders of life into a baccalaureate degree.
Completing your A.S. in Environmental Science equips you with courses and credits that transfer to a four-year program in the same discipline or a related life science major such as wildlife management, ecology, plant and microbial biology, genetics, cell biology, and more.

Saving our Earth is job one.
Delving into the life sciences gives you dynamic access to numerous career field options, including biology, botany, zoology, medicine, biotechnology, ecology, genetic engineering, and much more. If you’re passionate about learning everything you can about life, Environmental Science at Inver Hills is your portal to success.

Career Opportunities

As an environmental scientist, you’ll investigate natural and human-made processes to find out how and why those processes interact to influence and oftentimes harm Earth’s complex biomes.

A career in environmental science could be just right for you if you’re seeking an integrated, interdisciplinary understanding of environmental systems and human impacts, plus a science-based approach to addressing issues that affect human, animal, and ecosystem health, along with the chance to learn real, hands-on methods that can prevent and solve environmental problems.


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