Newsroom: SITW in the News
The following articles have either featured Semester in the West or mentioned us and our journey around the West:
» Traveling Whitman College class spends week studying Wallowa County issues by Elane Dickenson of the Wallowa County Chieftan, Enterprise, OR; Story originally published September 23, 2010
» Washington students take lessons from conservationists in campout by Jutta Biggerstaff of the Hi-Desert Star, Joshua Tree, CA; Story originally published January 7, 2009
» College Class on Environment Redefines the Field Trip: NPR's Day-to-Day ran this story about us on November 6, 2006.
»The Western Folklife Center featured us on their website, as did Robin Boies in her Blog
» The Salt Lake Tribune published this article about Semester in the West, October 29, 2006.
» Semester in the West: Traveling Class Taking First-Hand Look at Environmental Issues: Whitman's latest release about the program, September 22, 2004.
» The Seattle Times and Walla Walla Union Bulletin ran this article about Semester in the West in its December 22, 2002 issue.
» The Whitman Magazine wrote its own story about our journey. You can also view this as a PDF file with color pictures.
» High Country News wrote a short blurb about Semester in the West in their October issue, after we visited the HCN office in Paonia, Colorado.
» We met with John Marvel of the Western Watersheds Project in northern Nevada. He writes about his time with us: https://www.westernwatersheds.org/educate/educate.html.
» Independent Colleges of Washington called SITW a "once in a lifetime study opportunity" in their newsletter.
Whitties Travel the West in a Semester of Intensive Study
(From Whitman Magazine
, March, 2003.)
Whitman launched its first Semester in the West last fall sending 23 students, three professors, and field manager Lindsey Bloom, ’01, out into the field for three months to study environmental and social justice issues throughout the interior American West. “The goal of the program,” said director Phil Brick, associate professor of politics, “is to integrate traditional academic learning with a series of rigorous experiences in the field.”
And rigorous it was. Students traveled more than 12,000 miles to visit nearly 100 people in the field doing environmental and social justice work in the West. Students were also expected to keep up with a long list of reading designed to provide the necessary background to the issues at hand, said Brick.
After visiting with many people with a wide variety of interests and expertise, including environmental activists, members of Native American groups, loggers, ranch-ers, miners, and community-based conservation activists, students learned that environmental issues such as sustainable forestry, grazing, and healthy rural communities are far more complex than they imagined.
"They quickly discovered that some of the ideas they favored in academic discussions about natural resources did not play out as they expected when followed to ground,” said Brick. For example, students sympathetic to water-marketing proposals to solve chronic water short-ages in New Mexico learned that such proposals have hidden costs.
"The theory suggests that the market mechanism will insure that water will flow to its highest and best use, probably consumption in urban areas such as Santa Fe and Albu-querque,” Brick explained. But after meetings with Hispanic land grant activists Maria Varela and David Benavides, students learned that the most senior water rights belonged to some of the least affluent people in the state — rural Hispanics.
"If water flowed to urban areas based solely on price, a rural way of life that existed well before the Anglo settlement of North America might vanish,” Brick said. “Suddenly, water marketing, while elegant in theory, seemed much less attractive when serious cultural costs were factored into the equation.
"What made our experiences even more intense," said Brick, “is that students had the chance to write about these experiences as they were happening and share ideas with other students in regular discussion circles out in the field.”
Writing professor Paul Hoornbeek assigned regular “epiphanies,” which were shared after dinner under a starry Western sky. “Writing is the perfect complement to experiential learning because it allows students to say how they really feel about the difficult tradeoffs and contradictions they experience in the field,” noted Brick. Students also got the chance to meet several well-known western writers, including Daniel Kemmis, Judy Blunt, Ellen Meloy, Sharman Apt Russell, and Jon Christensen. Students particularly enjoyed read-ing authors’ works ahead of time, Brick said, and then having the opportunity to discuss ideas with them face to face.
Students learned about ecological relationships throughout the West in two, two-week intensive ecology courses that they took on the road. Professor Mary O’Brien focused on grassland ecology in Hells Canyon, while professor Paul Arbetan took the students on an ecological tour of New Mexico, from high in the Jemez Mountains in the north to the Chihuahuan desert in the south. “The ecology component really added a lot to the program,” said Brick. “It showed the students how scientific research is done in the field, and how such research is used in political arguments as well.”
In the end, Brick said, he hopes that some students will be inspired by their experiences to become active in Western environmental issues. “The West will need a new breed of activist if we are ever to be able to move closer toward Wallace Stegner’s goal of creating a society to match the scenery.”
On the Road with Semester in the West
By Cathy Grimes, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, December 22, 2002.
Walla Walla residents affectionately call Whitman College students "Whitties.'' But 23 Whitman students consider them-selves "Westies,'' after participat-ing in a three-month experiment completed December 7. The students, three professors, and a field manager trekked across the inland West in three GMC Suburbans and a trailer-hauling truck, following a serpentine path through nine states.
Billed as the College's first "Semester in the West,'' the program focused on first-hand examination of land use and other issues in the arid west. Politics professor Phil Brick developed the idea last year.
Brick, who has been leading field studies programs for more than a decade, said student evalua-tions and alumni letters called such experiences "epiphanies,'' often the most memorable part of their college careers. "Student lives have become so complicated, it is difficult to get them away from school for more than a few days,'' Brick said. "Students really can't take that kind of time away from their studies.''
The semester project solved the problem, providing classes and field work. The Westies agree with Brick's assessment, but said the semester was more than eye-opening. It was life-changing, according to participant Corey McKrill. Students embarked in October with one set of views. They returned in December with another. Junior Sarah Gilman, an art major with an interest in environmental issues, said most of the Westies initially were "pretty hard-core green environmentalists.'' Politics major Kalin Schmoldt said the trip took issues out of textbooks and newspapers. "It's pretty easy in the classroom to see things in black and white,'' he said. "But you get out into the West and there is no single approach.''
Students heard from more than 80 speakers, toured mines, timber mills and ranches and attended ral-lies and meetings on the trek. They focused on public land use, including history, alteration of the land, property rights and water use. But the most common thread was cattle grazing on public lands, in parks and on Bureau of Land Management properties.
"Grazing was a huge issue,'' Brick said. "We spent a lot of time talking to people representing the 'other side.' They put a face on the issue,'' Gilman said. "'I'm so confused,' was the common theme.''
"They see that the issues get quite complicated,'' Brick said. "The students ended up quite frankly liking the people'' they initially vilified.
The Westies carried a full course load of classes on the trip, studying ecology, environmental politics, writing and developing independent study projects with Brick and Whitman professors Paul Arbetan and Paul Hoornbeek. Professor Mary O'Brien worked with the students in Oregon, but did not travel with them. Their white trailer, nicknamed Further II, doubled as a study room, equipped with 17 computers and a satellite Inter-net link powered by six solar panels. When not in use for study, the trailer stowed camp gear, including five tents, the kitchen, duffle bags and folding chairs. The white truck, called Moby Dick, held a 100-gallon water tank for drinking, cooking and showers.
Students adapted easily to the accommodations, Brick said. They formed four work groups and rotated turns cooking and cleaning under the supervision of field manager Lindsey Bloom. Students usually slept under the stars, but on rainy nights they "pig piled'' into the tents, Schmoldt said. McKrill said few students grappled with boredom. "We were busy a lot of the time,'' Schmoldt said. "We really didn't have breaks.'' Among the greatest challenges, according to McKrill, was finding places to take long, hot showers. When Moby Dick, the trailer and the Suburbans pulled into real camp-grounds, students vied for access to the showers. Students scrambled to complete camp chores and studies during daylight hours. The only artificial lights were connected to Further II. Schmoldt said most people settled in for the night once darkness descended. There were other rituals, students said. The most obvious took place every time the group stopped to refuel. "Phil would announce, 'This is another Semester in the Minimart stop,'" Schmoldt intoned. Brick said students disembarked and headed into the store to ogle candy displays, try on sunglasses, read postcards and use the restrooms.
Most class discussions occurred during the drive. Brick said he instructed the students to "view each person as a text. Read the person then ask, 'What are you hearing? What's missing?''' Then students wrote about the speech or visit and shared the writing with peers. "It was interesting being able to hash out what different people picked up from the speakers,'' McKrill said.
The Westies said living and working with classmates and instructors was enjoyable. "We took really good care of each other,'' Gilman said. In fact, many of the Westies hope to rent a Walla Walla house together as they finish their time at Whitman. Brick said staff had as much fun as the students. "One morning in New Mexico, we were camping at 7,000 feet and we woke to snow and sleet,'' Brick recalled. "The students were sleeping outside and they woke up wet, but there was laughter and joy in camp. That's what made the trip memorable. Every morning I woke to the sound of laughter.''