Call of the Wild: Students Get Authentic Outdoor Learning Experiences at These American Colleges and Universities

By Martin, James; Samels, James E. | University Business, February 2007 | Go to article overview

Call of the Wild: Students Get Authentic Outdoor Learning Experiences at These American Colleges and Universities


Martin, James, Samels, James E., University Business


LAST SUMMER, MY (SAMELS') daughter Gabrielle chided me for coming up empty-handed after a morning of fishing on Lake Cochituate near our home in Natick, Mass. "Skunked again, Dad?"

I grumbled and blamed the "Eurasian Milfoil," an invasive foreign vegetation, which destroys lakes by strangling the natural balance of aquatic life.

This exchange got me to thinking. Sure enough, the lake seems to get warmer each year, which is why our cold-water habitat is now at risk (read as, trout displaced by sharp-tooth predators like pike and musky).

While the shrinking of glaciers and rising of tides may not impact our daily lives in the near term, events like the 2004 Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 compel us to learn more about our environment and the role we can play in building sustainable communities.

Since these catastrophic events, we sense a palpable shift in our monthly focus group discussions among major employers, guidance counselors, faculty, students, and parents. In fact, we see an emergent interest on campuses in environmental science and technology, natural resource management, wilderness survival skills, and eco-tourism. Indeed, what is fundamentally different at this moment in history is the confluence of emergent environmental, energy, and sustainability issues facing American higher education, and significantly, the daunting challenges to our fragile ecosystems around the world.

What is new is a robust, green industry creating a critical mass of environmental employers and jobs, justifying the return on tuition investment in environmental studies programs. This megatrend is also reflected in the greening of American college and university campus infrastructures, creating renewable energy sources, closing the circle on hazardous waste, and preserving green space for passive recreation uses.

Given the elevated interest in preserving our natural environment, we invite you to zip up your backpacks and hike along with us on a trek across the nation for a series of virtual campus visitations to America's outdoor colleges and universities.

WILDERNESS BOUND

Our first adventure kicks off in the wilds of northern Maine on the Canadian border, where the University of Maine at Fort Kent offers a genuine Allagash Wilderness Waterway learning experience. President Richard Cost reflects on the university's special outdoor mission: "The geography of the Saint John Valley defines our rural campus, a small intimate campus surrounded by splendid isolation, and a spectacular natural wilderness environment. Our students want a real wilderness learning experience where they can get their feet wet and their hands dirty working on important projects that preserve the wilderness for future generations."

Our next campsite is at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. UNH offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the fields of resort management and outdoor recreation with a special environmental sensitivity interwoven throughout the curriculum. UNH also hosts the Northeast Passage, a program that provides new opportunities for disabled students to enjoy the outdoors as a central part of UNH's Therapeutic Recreation program option. UNH is accredited by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), which for more than 40 years has built a strong core of nearly 100 specially accredited institutions.

Another NRPA-accredited institution is Green Mountain College, which bills itself as "Vermont's Environmental Liberal Arts College." Nestled in the mountains, the college features niche programs in the growing fields of adventure recreation and ski resort management. Green Mountain is also a member of The Eco League, which provides student exchange opportunities with five other outdoor colleges: Antioch College (Ohio), Prescott College (Ariz.), the College of the Atlantic (Maine), Alaska Pacific University, and Northland College (Wisc. …

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