Only at Central: Things you probably didn't expect to find at CWU

Only at Central: Things you probably didn't expect to find at CWU

It’s warm and humid in the CWU Greenhouse jungle room. There’s a faint floral smell in the air and clusters of tall, leafy green plants sprout from the room’s center and rise along the glass walls. Perhaps the only things missing are the sounds of rainfall, birds, and buzzing insects.

“On a hot, summer day, or even a day like today where it’s chilly and cold outside but it’s sunny, some of the rooms can heat up to 110 degrees,” noted Jonathan Betz, an instruction and class support technician who earned both his bachelor’s (’09) and master’s (’19) degrees in biology at Central.

Central’s Greenhouse is a repository of botanical bounty—some 900 different types from all over the world. Within its 4,100 square feet are four distinct rooms that cater to various types of plants including the jungle room and the tropical room, both moist and warm, as well as the drier-but-still-warm desert room.

Inside of each are dozens of plants native to the particular environments. The fourth, called the research room, supports the department’s academic needs.

Wandering through the various rooms, visitors will encounter a variety of familiar flora, such as chocolate, coffee, and vanilla plants, as well as more unusual varieties like the amorphophallus titanium, commonly known as the “corpse flower,” which, when in bloom smells like decayed meat, and pitcher plants, which have modified leaves known as pitfall traps (they look like little pitchers) to capture and digest insects.

Operated under the auspices of the Biology Department, the greenhouse was constructed in 1981. According to records, the late CWU biology professor John Carr, who taught at Central from 1972 until he retired in 2000, played a key role in getting it constructed.

“It’s really nice to have this facility. I’m really grateful to be part of it,” Betz said.

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Snorkel the Tortoise

While strolling through the desert room, you’ll probably encounter an African sulcata tortoise, affectionately known as Snorkel. Now about 14 years old and approaching 100 pounds, Snorkel was donated to the university when he could still fit inside a small cat carrier.

“We oftentimes will receive animals from people who had them as pets before and, for one reason or another, wanted to find another home for them,” Betz said. “And Snorkel has definitely been a very welcome addition to the Biology Department.”

In addition to being a highlight of campus tours, Snorkel often appears alongside a variety of other reptiles during community outreach efforts, such as Arbor Day at the Yakima Area Arboretum. Because of his habitat, he easily dovetails into academic conversations about desert adaptations.

“They serve not only the Central students because they’re learning areas, but they also are used for other schools,” Betz said.

In non-pandemic times, the greenhouse is open on Fridays from 1-3 p.m. The CWU community and members of the public are invited in to meet Snorkel, tour the greenhouse, and purchase plant starts for a donation. This helps fund the addition of other uncommon plants to the department.


From Mill Pond to Nature Preserve

Not every university can claim to have its own research pond. But Englehorn Pond, off 14th Avenue, is a little-known natural preserve and outdoor biology laboratory that is home to two species of frogs—the Columbia spotted frog and the Pacific chorus or tree frog—as well as ducks, salamanders, turtles, newts, freshwater amphipods (also known as scuds), and other water creatures and insects.

The pond was developed in the early 1900s as part of a sawmill and pond facility, owned by the Kittitas Lumber Company, primarily to serve the Northern Pacific Railroad, which ran through Kittitas Valley. The lumber company had been established in 1903 by Fred Englehorn and his brothers-in-law, Carl Ortman and John Weston.

Englehorn operated the mill until 1928, when the lumber company dissolved as a result of financial problems at the start of the Great Depression. A gifted master millwright and planer operator, he worked for the Ellensburg Lumber Company until retiring in 1946.

In 1968, Englehorn and his wife, Agnes, gifted the pond, which they had continued to own, to the Nature Conservancy. In 1976, the Conservancy turned over ownership of the pond to CWU, which has, since then, used it for biological research. Over the years, students have been able to study a wide variety of plants and wildlife at the pond ranging from willow trees to scorpions.

While the pond, which is fed by Wilson Creek, is too shallow for fish to live in, they will occasionally pass through. Additionally, it is landscaped with native plants and is home to a variety of zooplankton, aquatic invertebrates, leeches, and many protozoans.

“A lot of the research that has happened over there lately has been on bird populations,” said Betz, who studied frog species in the pond as an undergrad. “We get waterfowl, as well as a lot of migrating birds that pass through looking for water.”

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Cadaver Lab Gets High-Tech Upgrade

When the Health Sciences Building opens in January 2022, students will be able to visualize the human body in new high-tech ways. The cadaver laboratories are equipped with interactive 3D anatomy hardware and software (think Iron Man-like technology, except with a body instead of a suit of armor).

Students will work with a life-size computer screen table that presents high-resolution, 3D digital images of the human body and its organs. The tables will tilt upright so users can get a lifelike view of the images, which are made from dissections of “real” cadavers (stored in the software).

“Students can interact and study high resolution, digital images of all body organs (from the whole body to the smallest nerves and blood vessels),” noted Health Sciences Professor Leo D’Acquisto, who has been involved in procuring the new technology. “Images can be rotated in multiple planes to study, in great detail, anatomical structures of the human body.”

Additionally, according to D’Acquisto, the new high tech anatomy lab will also offer augmented reality technology. Students wearing special eyeglasses will be able to interact with holographic images of the whole body and specific organs.

“With this technology, you may have a group of 12 students, along with the professor, all wearing these special eyewear units and focused on a holographic image of an organ,” he said. “The professor can rotate the organ in space in multiple dimensions and perform dissections of the organ.”

D’Acquisto noted that the new technology will enhance but not replace traditional anatomy teaching that involves using real cadavers (CWU has had a cadaver lab with real specimens for many decades). “Bringing into play the innovative technology does not replace the cadavers,” he said. “The cadavers provide an experience for students that no other technology can replace.”

The existing lab will be moving from Purser Hall, where it has been since the 1980s, to the new Health Sciences Building.

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Art for the Masses

Sure, lots of colleges and universities have public art. But at Central you can view a life-size bronze horse that looks like it’s made of driftwood and a giant floating mobile of colorful glass with curved metal tubes and wires that represents piano keys.

All are part of the university’s permanent public art collection, many acquired through the Art in Public Places program, which facilitates the purchase of artwork in public places throughout the state of Washington.

“Why is public art important on campus? There are obvious reasons, such as adding culture to an environment,” noted Gregg Schlanger, chair of the Department of Art and Design. “But I think it’s also important because it brings a unique identity to a place. Each piece creates an identity to the building or location, especially over time.”

CWU’s gallery of accessible artwork includes several dozen pieces, including Deborah Butterfield’s “Wickiup,” a seven-foot-tall bronze, solitary horse figure west of Mitchell Hall that appears to be made from weathered wood branches. Butterfield’s work has been displayed at the Kennedy Center among other places.

Other noteworthy art includes John Rogers’ “Octaves of Light,” a massive sculpture made of aluminum, dichroic glass, and stainless-steel cables, which hangs in the rotunda of the McIntyre Music Building. Rogers’ work is on display in such places as the Miami International Airport.

One of the most recent additions to CWU is Ilan Averbuch’s “Mammoth,” a towering 15-foot-high and 49-foot-long steel sculpture, found east of Samuelson Hall. The work resembles a giant mammoth tusk that appears to go under the walkway and emerges on the other side.

“Public art adds to the educational aspect of the campus. Where one likes the piece or not, it can inspire, encourage, and create critical thinking. Good public art considers its location and the public that use that location,” Schlanger said. “It might consider the history, the use, the cultural aspects, the architecture, the landscape, and/or the lighting of the site.”

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