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Biodiversity University offers in-depth nature study taught by the region’s finest experts and educators. Our students are weekend naturalists, working ecologists, and anyone with an insatiable drive to understand the pieces and patterns of our wild world.

You won’t find admissions committees, dean’s offices, or football teams here. At BioU, our star athletes swing insect nets. Our mascots are Arethusa orchids, Promethea silkmoths, and an orange slime of uncertain biological origins. Our campus comprises Vermont’s diverse wildlands, headquartered at the lab and classrooms of Montpelier’s North Branch Nature Center.

Spend a weekend or a week this summer immersed outdoors in a learning community of like-minded nature lovers.

2023 Summer Field Courses - Registration Open!

Amphibians of Vernal Pools

Kate Kelly | April 15-16 & May 7 | $285

Botany Boot Camp

Michael Sundue | May 27 - 28 | $285

Woody Plants (N. Forest Atlas)

Jenkins & Engstrom | May 20-21 | $285

Reading the Landscape

Alicia Daniel | June 3 - 4 | $285

Champlain Valley Glacial Geology

Stephen Wright | May 27 - 28 | $285

Botanical Illustration

Susan Sawyer | June 16 - 18 | $385

Slow Birding

Bridget Butler | July 8 - 9 | $285

Old Forest Ecology

Shelby Perry | July 29 - 30 | $285

Wasps of New England

Sloan Tomlinson | August 12 - 13 | $285

Mushroom ID & Ecology

Dave Muska | August 26 - 27 | $285

New This Year: Northern Forest Atlas Field Courses

Northern Forest Atlas One-day Field Courses are courses in the plants and ecology of a distinctive place. We select one or two plant groups we will focus on; send out some lists of plants and ecological lessons for you to study ahead of time; meet at the site and do some warm-up exercises to prepare; hike in and turn you loose in groups to see what you can learn; sit down midday to discuss ecology and identification; and then finish up, again in groups, to hunt for some of the harder-to-find species. The emphasis will be on finding things and identifying them yourselves, and then using us to help you confirm and understand what you have found. Everyone is welcome to the field courses, but some knowledge of the groups we will be studying will help. We tend to dive, not wade.

Three courses are presented by Northern Forest Atlas and hosted via NBNC's Biodiversity University and Paul Smith College's Visitor Interpretive Center in the Adirondacks.

Signing up for any two one-day programs at either organization location grants you free attendance at a third program at either location. (Contact us to register for your third field course).

2023 Northern Forest Atlas day courses through NBNC

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Large erratic, Drew Mt-1

3 June, Drew Mt., VT: The Plant Geography of a Granite Hill: Woody Plants and Indicators.
$110 | Register Here

Drew Mountain is the Granite Hills of Groton State Park, which are an igneous pluton intruded into the Devonian Waits-River sediments. The granite is hard and acid, the Waits softer and limy. The plants are an unusual combination, reflecting both influences. We will focus on the woody plants as a key to understanding the habitat, and add some interesting grasses, sedges, and herbs as details. Taught by Brett Engstrom, who has lived in the Granite Hills for thirty years, and Jerry Jenkins who visits them whenever he can.


Middle cobble, N Pownal-28

22 July, Quarry Hill, North Pownal, VT: Mosses and the Dry-rich Community.
| Register Here

Quarry Hill is a dry low-elevation marble hill with an exceptionally diverse flora. Marble hills rare in the Northern Forest Region. Some of the best are in western New England. This one, which has been famous botanically since the early 1900s, is one of the best of the best. We will focus on limestone mosses and also look at some distinctive woody plants, herbs, and indicators. Taught by Jerry Jenkins and Sue Williams.


26 August, Ethan Allen Homestead, Burlington, VT: The Shores of the Winooski.
| Register Here

A one-day course in low-water and floodplain grasses, sedges, and woodies along the lower Winooski River. Vermont has about forty species of late-blooming sedges (mostly), rushes (a few) and grasses (even fewer) that are best sought on river and lake shores in late summer and fall. They are a distinctive and fascinating flora; the lower Winooski is one of the best places to find them and learn them. Taught by Brett Engstrom and Jerry Jenkins, who have many happy days of river time between them.

Northern Forest Atlas courses through Paul Smith's VIC

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Brett and Sue, Drew-2

25 June, Bouquet Mountain, Essex, NY: A Dry Fertile Rocky Hill.

Taught by Jerry Jenkins and Sue Williams.

Bouquet Mountain is in the West Champlain Hills, a group of rocky dry-rich igneous hills with a remarkable flora. We believe to them to be the highest-diversity sites, and to have the largest number of regionally uncommon species, in the Adirondack Region. We will focus on mosses and also look at woody plants and other indicator species.

Register at Paul Smith's Visitor Interpretive Center

15 July, Fine, NY: The Shores of the Oswegatchie. A one-day field course,
by canoe, in sedges, grasses, woodies.

Taught by Jerry Jenkins, with some friends and guests.

The Oswegatchie above Inlet is a classic boreal river with a low-gradient channel bordered by marshy coves, river meadows, shrub swamps, high levees, and small peatlands. We will go upstream a couple of hours looking at the channel and shore plants. It is a great place to learn river shore grasses and sedges: the diversity is manageable and many of the species are identifiable from their growth form and position within the channel. It is also a very beautiful river, with many distinctive plants, and a wonderful introduction to the open river corridors of the lowland boreal. 

Register at Paul Smith's Visitor Interpretive Center

12 August, Wilmington, NY: Whiteface Mountain Mosses, Bottom to Top.

Taught by Jerry Jenkins and Sue Williams.

In memory of Nancy Slack, 1930-2022. In 1977, Nancy published her Species Diversity and Community Structure in Bryophytes, based on studies on an elevational gradient on Whiteface Mountain. We will revisit some of what she found, going up the toll road and looking at communities and species at three different elevations. A wide range of temperate and boreal species mid elevations, alpine specialties up top.

Register at Paul Smith's Visitor Interpretive Center

13 August, Chapel Pond, Keene, NY: Mosses of Cold Cliffs and Shores.

Jerry Jenkins and Sue Williams.

A visit to the bases of the cold wet cliffs at Chapel Pond, where there are a number of interesting wet-rock and seepage genera that we don’t see in other habitats. Many are shy and somewhat difficult. This probably shouldn’t be the first moss class you take. Taught by Jerry Jenkins and Sue Williams. Sue discovered Hygrohypnum subeugyrium here; she does things like that.

Register at Paul Smith's Visitor Interpretive Center

More about Biodiversity University

BioU is headquartered at Montpelier’s North Branch Nature Center, where students can learn together in the center’s comfortable classrooms, lab, and kitchen. The atmosphere is innovative and entertaining, fostering education, discovery, and personal and professional growth. NBNC’s beautiful facilities and 28-acre property complement BioU’s wider “campus” – the fields, forests, mountains, and wetlands of Vermont. The bulk of each course is spent outside, returning to NBNC for lab work and lecture.

BioU invites instructors who are renowned for both their topical expertise and their prowess as educators. We’ve all taken classes by geniuses who can’t explain themselves, or terrific teachers with limited content knowledge – not at BioU. We prioritize in-depth learning from the best instructors in the business.

We give our instructors the reins to design their ideal course, and work with them to sculpt a program that fits our participants’ interests, budgets, and busy schedules. Courses are one to five days long, and include full days of learning.

BioU students are retirees discovering birdwatching, finance officers learning watercolors, professional ecologists curious about edible plants, or graduate students practicing sedge identification. Students are not expected to have prerequisite expertise in the topic. The only course prerequisite is a desire for in-depth learning. BioU draws participants from around New England and across the east coast.

Participants must be 18 years or older.

Graduate-level credit is available for most BioU courses with an additional $200 per-credit fee. All BioU courses are accredited by Castleton University. Participants interested in receiving credit must contact us at least 2 months in advance so we have time to arrange course accreditation. Weekend-length courses qualify for one graduate-level science credit. Longer courses qualify for two to three graduate-level credits. Credits can generally satisfy undergraduate requirements as well. Students are responsible for ensuring that their home institutions will accept the credits.

Participants seeking credit will be required to complete additional reading and writing assignments to satisfy the requirements of our accrediting institution.

All BioU courses qualify for Continuing Education Units. A certificate of completion, indicating CEUs and professional development hours are provided following each course.

Enrolling for academic credit? If you have already enrolled in a BioU course, and are seeking academic credit, you must also register with Castleton University. We will provide instructions for doing this.


We offer coffee, tea, and light breakfast fare (pastries, etc.) each morning when courses convene at NBNC. Please bring your own lunch, snacks, and drinks.


Biodiversity University does not offer onsite lodging for participants, but there are several nearby options covering a range of styles and price points. We recommend the following options:

Capitol Plaza ($200/night; Montpelier)
The Inn at Montpelier ($200/night; Montpelier)
High Hill Inn ($150/night; East Montpelier)
Comfort Inn and Suites ($120/night; Berlin VT)
Marshfield Inn and Motel ($100/night; Marshfield, VT)
AirB&B ($60-$150+/night; options vary)

Participants may camp at NBNC with permission.

Please Click Here to see course offerings from previous seasons.

We now have financial aid available for most courses. Please contact [email protected] to request financial support, and we will provide you with options.

For all protocols and policies around COVID-19, please see our COVID Webpage. These policies are subject to change based on updated guidance from the Vermont Department of Health.

BioU satisfies a strong demand for in-depth, immersive nature study. This university has no sports team, no admission’s office, and no deans or provosts. Instead, BioU has Vermont’s rich and varied assemblage of natural communities – wild places well-suited to intensive field study and creative learning – and a community of passionate and renowned instructors.

We recruit skilled and enthusiastic biologist educators to lead field-based seminars across a range of disciplines rarely found at academic institutions. BioU offers insights into the forces of nature: the harmony and diversity in groups of organisms, the simple and complex interactions between the biological and the physical, and the skills for identifying life in the natural world.

RGV BioU Mark

"Everything depends on our ability to sustainably inhabit this earth,
and true sustainability will require us all to change our way of thinking
on how we take from the earth and how we give back"

— Deb Haaland (Pueblo of Laguna; US Department of Interior Secretary)

North Branch Nature Center

713 Elm Street
Montpelier, Vermont 05602
(802) 229-6206

Hours: Center Open Monday-Friday 9-4
Trails Open 24/7