Adjacent to Dr. Michaeleen Golay’s office at Silver Lake College is a greenhouse, where she grows a variety of succulents and ferns, pineapple plants and even the carrion flower, which emits the slight stench of rotting flesh when it blooms.
Golay, Assistant Professor in the Natural Science Department, cultivates the plants for her Introduction to Biology, Plant Biology and Ecology students.
Next to the greenhouse is the college’s herbarium, where dried plant specimens are organized in tall cabinets and preserved for study.
Golay, who feels at home surrounded by plants, learned to appreciate nature at an early age.
“I grew up playing outside in the dirt and loved to be in the woods,” said the Cascade, Iowa, native. She and her husband, Bryan, and their Labrador retrievers, Sequoia and Honey, now make their home in Cleveland, Wis., where they enjoy hiking and growing vegetables and fruits in their garden.
It was in college that Golay discovered environmental science and decided she wanted to make a difference through stewardship of the land.
“From there, I decided to teach and have a broader impact by instilling that stewardship in my students,” she said.
Golay earned her Bachelor’s degrees in English and Environmental Science from the University of Iowa in Iowa City. She earned her Master’s and Doctorate degrees in forest biology from Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.
Water quality and restoration of naturally functioning forest ecosystems is her focus of interest.
“Plants on the forest floor hold nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorous, for part of the growing season and prevent them from running off into the streams,” Golay said.
Her research on the nutrient cycle of wooded areas — and how that is disrupted with the growth of invasive species and the loss of native species — led her to study how that information could help private landowners to improve water quality.
Golay and co-authors of a paper on the subject that appeared in the July 2014 volume of the Journal of Forestry have conducted workshops in which they shared information, engaged landowners and foresters in discussions and activities to identify their goals for forest management, discussed obstacles to restoration, and shared information with each other.
“Collaborative learning is a way of engaging landowners in the idea of forest restoration management,” she said.
Golay joined Sliver Lake College two years ago. Also on the roster of classes she teaches are Vertebrate and Invertebrate Biology and Environmental Science.
“I love seeing students get excited about science,” she said. “I like seeing them develop the professional skills needed to go into the workforce as well as learning the biology side of things.”