Westminster Expedition Trades Classrooms for a Road Trip Across the West

Expedition on the road

August 31, 2017

On the first day of fall semester classes, history professor Jeff Nichols was wearing a tie-dye T-shirt, hooking a trailer full of camping gear to a van and splitting town.

Nichols wasn't alone. Environmental studies professor Brent Olson, 14 students and one program assistant all piled into two vans for a semester-long class on the road that explores some of the most intriguing sites across the American West. During Westminster's inaugural Expedition class, students will delve into topics of environmental cooperation and conflict, landscape and meaning, Native nations and public lands.

"The best learning happens when we are immersed in experiences," said Jeff Nichols, Ph.D., history professor and Expedition coordinator. "Traveling to extraordinary places and talking with the people who live and work there will illuminate complex human and environmental issues." The group will tour iconic sites like Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks as well as contentious places like Little Bighorn and Bears Ears. They will see Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. At each location, the class will meet with local residents and experts (including Native leaders), writers, scholars, activists, elected officials and government land managers. During their road trip, the class will not only study the sites, but also work on photo essays, journals, essays and research papers that they will present when they return to campus. "Today, the Western environment and our cherished public lands are threatened," said Brent Olson, environmental studies associate professor and co-coordinator of the Expedition. "We designed the Westminster Expedition to offer each student a unique learning experience and to build a community of impassioned scholars dedicated to building a better future for the West." Students are already reporting back about Expedition with dispatches from the field submitted on Instagram.

A dispatch from Maria Nappi (@teleskiah): "Took a hike to an abandoned ski chalet that over looks Centennial Valley! Lake view ski area never had any lifts but was a destination for snowmobilers, skiers and hunters in the 60s! From the chalet you can see the flat end of upper red Rock lake that is so straight because of a fault line that runs along it, to the left there is the largest wetland in greater Yellowstone that connects to the lower red Rock lake." Trading classrooms for the open roads of the American West is already proving a worthy adventure.

A dispatch from Bridger Layton (@bridger_layton): "This morning was one to remember! We observed wolves in the wild in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone, then had the opportunity to discuss the ecology of wolves in detail with two researchers in the park. It was exciting to watch as everyone fully engaged in the discussion. It's amazing the amount of curiosity and enthusiasm that field-based learning inspires."

Join the Westminster Expedition on Facebook and Instagram @WestminsterExpedition or visit www.westminstercollege.edu/expedition.