JMOERC Grants Outdoor Education for Chickasha


Emily Loughridge

Photographer, Mary-Grace McNutt utilized USAO’s Habitat to practice her photography skills. The area offers a multitude of educational opportunities.

Bea Bourland, Contributing Writer

An outdoor classroom, something the majority of universities don’t have, however, USAO isn’t like the majority of universities. About five minutes west of town, the Jean McLaughlin Outdoor Education & Research Center (JMOERC) at the USAO Habitat is a classroom built in 2011. The classroom allows USAO to officially hold classes out in nature close to campus. Classes such as Cultivation of Fungi taught by Dr. Rachel Jones, Dean of School of Science and Physical Education and associate professor of Environmental Science and Biology, utilize the area. In this class, the students use the JMOERC to examine fungi in economically significant ways, such as creating food and learning about their medicinal properties.

What else is rest of the USAO Habitat used for? Many parts of the campus have applied a multidisciplinary approach to the land. Dr. Josh Hakala, assistant professor of Biology, has taught his astrophotography class over summers since 2021 at JMOERC, providing a unique experience for many students.

“The astronomy I like to do would be nearly impossible without the habitat, due to the city’s lights,” said Dr. Hakala.

Additionally, Blake Morgan, associate professor of Art, said he has taught all of his classes at the habitat this spring trimester with weather permitting. Morgan said that the habitat is a great resource for the art department, and it allows students to get out of the classroom.

The USAO Habitat has taken things into their own hands in terms of reaching out to the community through the form of K-12 workshops. Starting in the fall of 2022, workshops investigating plants, animals, insects, and water have taken place to help educate the community and foster a connection as well. Other community outreach includes hosting the AP biology classes from the Chickasha High School. This encourage the high school classes to be one with nature.

The USAO Habitat was sold to the university in 1901 as the original land for the university. This was quickly overruled by the governor, as he was worried for both the safety of the women going to the college and the closeness to the city. The USAO Habitat was used as a gun range and cattle grazing field before it was decided to be used as a learning facility for students in 2011. The donation of money by Mr. and Mrs. McLaughlin allowed for the construction of the JMOERC to begin.

“We are very fortunate, as a university, to have an outdoor place so close to campus,” said Dr. Jason Shaw, associate professor of Biology and USAO Habitat Manager.


Bea Bourland is a first-year Biology and Environmental Science major at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.