Frequently Asked QuestionsWhitman College Semester in the West is an environmental studies semester in the field, exploring ecological, social, and aesthetic dimensions of the American West. It is a program designed for liberal arts students who want to get out into the field to meet the people who are shaping this beautiful and diverse region. It is a program for students who can think across traditional, disciplinary boundaries and who welcome adventure.
Who is eligible to apply? Do you have to be an Environmental Studies major?
There are no specific major requirements for SITW, although it is oriented towards the Environmental Studies curriculum. Each SITW has had many environmental studies majors, but also students majoring in applied math, studio art, politics, economics, biology, and included others who were undecided.
What courses do Semester in the West students enroll in? How many credits do they take? Do the courses fulfil any distribution requirements?
Students who are accepted into Semester in the West are automatically enrolled in ES 360: Environmental Writing and the American West, ES 408: Western Epiphanies: Integrated Project, BIO 177: Ecology of the American West, and POL 309: Environment and Politics in the American West. For in-depth descriptions of each course, please see click here.
How does the academic rigor of SITW compare with the rigor of on campus learning?
SITW is an intense semester. We have papers due, written exams, presentations, and other projects. Unlike on campus, we must reconcile our school-work with the duties that come from making living outdoors possible. Thus, everyone is usually just as challenged-if not more so-than they would be on campus. Thanks to our Internet connection and ever expanding library of books acquired on our route, we were able to conduct research on the road, take tests and function at a level equal to that at school.
How do you travel?
When we weren't backpacking or canoeing, we traveled in three Chevy Suburban SUVs, each with seven students, and used one GMC Sierra one-ton pickup to pull the trailer and carry a 100 gallon water tank. Each program logs about 10,000 miles, plus or minus a few thousand depending.
Where did you stay on Semester in the West?
For the most part we camped on National Forest or BLM land away from heavily populated areas--Las Vegas being the exception. Although tents were always available, we usually slept under the stars on most nights. Because everyone played a role in setting up camp, we soon got into a routine that made moving a fairly simple process--allowing us to see a number of diverse parts of the West, from the Canadian border to Mexico.
How do you stay in touch from the road?
Thanks to our high-speed satellite internet connection we were able to stay in touch via email, though we often had the opportunity to send snail-mail and make phone calls in towns along the way.
What do you eat? Do you have a cook?
Under the guidance of our field manager, we divide into cook crews of four or five people and alternate days. Everyone pitched in and everyone learned something about cooking! We generally provided a meat and vegetarian option, and we always ate well. Whenever possible, we tried to eat regional fare, and we pushed the limits of gourmet cooking! Our thanksgiving dinner at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains was a feast of deep-fried brie in a raspberry cream sauce with almond slivers, pies of all kinds, sweet potatoes, tofurky (for the vegetarians), two deep fried 12 pound turkeys, and more! We have since published three Semester in the West Cookbooks with recipes by the amazing Lindsey Bloom, Allison Holland, and Molly Smith!
How did you stay clean?
We would often bathe in creeks and rivers when other facilities were unavailable, or use solar showers. When the weather got colder we would heat water over the stoves to fill shower bags. We had numerous opportunities to use coin operated showers and laundry in towns every other week or so. We followed a strict hand washing procedure before meals, and consequently had far fewer illnesses on SITW than our friends at Whitman.
How do you...go to the bathroom?
We carry with air-tight aluminum "groovers" like those used on river rafting trips. No foxholes for us ... our groovers come complete with with seats and are often to be found nestled among some of the most dramatic landscapes you'll ever see.
How much gear are you allowed? What does the program provide?
On each trip we are allowed one duffel bag and one daypack per person. It was important that all gear be able to fit into one bag, including sleeping gear, so that loading and unloading the trailer is quick and efficient. SITW provided tents, sleeping pads, cooking equipment, and most everything you could expect from a residence hall. Students are encouraged to pack light, and only bring essential personal items.
Did you get any free time?
Over the course of any given program, students have very little free time. On occasions when we had mornings or afternoons off, we would head into town for laundry, explore our surroundings, communicate with friends, or catch up on reading. At the same time, the focused curriculum and collaboration by the professors on Semester in the West generally made it easy to relax on our off days because we usually only had to focus on one course at a time.
If you have any more questions, or would like to talk to someone about the program, email Program Director Phil Brick: brick (at) whitman (dot) edu