Last semester, there was only one student worker managing affairs at the Whitehouse Nature Center. Animals were being kept in their habitats and received the bare minimum of care needed to ensure that they were well-adjusted to being around people. Later in the semester, an interim director and a few more student workers were brought on to help handle the daily routine.
As of this semester, things are less tumultuous at the Nature Center, now that Monica Day has been hired to serve as the director. Day, a graduate of Michigan State University, has a history of environmental advocacy. From April to July 2022, she was a Project Consultant at the Environmental Law and Policy Center. Before that, she ran for public office as a nominee for Jackson County Drain Commissioner in 2020.
Day is not only directing things at the Nature Center, though. She will also serve as the executive director for the Center for Sustainability and the Environment (CSE), formalizing a relationship between two closely involved campus programs.
Thom Wilch, professor of Earth and Environment and faculty director for CSE said that previously, the director of the Nature Center worked closely with CSE, but was not the executive director.
“This is formalizing that connection that’s been there for quite a while,” Wilch said
As executive director of the CSE, Day describes the relationship between CSE and the Nature Center with the phrase “act local, think global.”
Day said she wants the Nature Center to be “relevant for wherever students are going in the world when they graduate,”
Day started on Jan. 9, but even before interviewing for the position and arriving on-campus, she’d been aware of the Whitehouse Nature Center. She had previously seen the position open up four or five years ago, only to then be filled.
“That was when I started kinda paying attention,” Day said. “I’m interested in that job, and maybe it will become open again,” she remembers thinking.
When the position opened up last year following the departure of long-time director Jason Raddatz, Albion College’s search for a new director was guided by certain requirements that emphasized not only the environment but also social change.
Day described her background as being focused on habitat improvement at the beginning, only to realize that there was a lot of social change that was needed to accommodate the natural world.
“For all the biodiversity of our area, how do we keep it in such a way that as many of the creatures who evolved here can continue to make this their home?” Day asked. “All of our systems as they’re going along in the world are not really set up to protect wildlife habitats or to improve it.”
While the management of the Nature Center’s 140 acres is a big part of her work, Day said she also hopes to encourage individuals to come out to the Nature Center often.
“I want this to be a very welcoming place for people of all walks of life,” Day said. “I want people to think of this as a place for them to come for refuge and that it’s not exclusive; it’s not just for the nature people, it’s for everyone.”
Last semester, while the Nature Center was without a director, student workers struggled to maintain the land, the building and the animals’ wellbeing. Now that Day has taken over, those students are cautiously optimistic about the future.
Dallas senior Orlando Velasquez was involved in keeping the Nature Center afloat last semester. Velasquez said that Day has been supportive of hosting events and increasing community engagement, but other conflicts have him concerned about whether “her goals are in the right direction.”
Dylan Mitchell, the Detroit junior who spent hours maintaining the Nature Center last semester, expressed concerns as to the manner in which the culture at the Nature Center was changing.
“We were coming in, we were doing what we needed to do, and we had so many projects planned, and now it’s like we don’t know if we can do it because we don’t know if Monica’s going to let us do it,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said his goals for the Nature Center are straightforward. “I want it to get to the point where people can come in, there’s someone there to greet them, we teach them about the animals, and we show them the projects that we’re doing.”
Day describes her hopes for the Nature Center as something that alumni can identify as a point of stability in the midst of everything that’s changing.
“Things are constantly changing, but there are certain things that can stay the same,” Day said. “I would love to see as much stay the same as possible, given how much it’s loved.”