“From Frozen Rainfall to Sunburn” in Utah: Environmental Science Journey Embraces Experiential Learning
An experiential learning journey through Utah’s parks, deserts, and river canyons this summer gave Trinity students a memorable new perspective on environmental science.
“This trip focused on a Colorado River rafting trip through Westwater and Ruby Canyons,” said Jonathan R. Gourley, lecturer and laboratory coordinator in the environmental science program. “We visited Arches National Park, Fisher Towers and a nearly 1,000 year old native petroglyph site. The trip combined history, earth science and desert ecology. We’ve been through everything from freezing rain to sunburn; the extremes out there are extreme.
Eleven students and three faculty members spent 10 days around Memorial Day weekend paddling, hiking in parks, camping in the desert and on riverbanks, and learning about the natural world around them. . “The more different places and environments you can experience, the better an environmental scientist you can become,” said Gourley, who led the trip with the associate professor of environmental science and biology. Amber L. Pitt. They were accompanied by the professor of practice in public policy and law Glenn W. Falk.
“In my introductory geology course, I teach large-scale geological topics like building mountains and understanding desert landscapes; for students going on trips, it all starts to make sense,” Gourley said. Trinity’s environmental science program regularly offers credited field experiences like this in Utah, Iceland and other destinations, though trips have been canceled in recent years due to the pandemic. “These trips give students the opportunity to not only read things in the textbook and look at pictures, but also get out and see for themselves. The eye-opening experience of seeing the American West and seeing the Technicolor geology in Utah can only really happen on the ground.
Pitt said the trip provided the students with an opportunity to study desert landscapes and the adaptations of plants and animals to water-limited conditions. “There were also opportunities to see how people’s use or misuse of water can further strain the limited natural resources and the ecosystem as a whole,” she said.
Eleanor Chmielowicz ’23, an environmental science and urban studies double major from Chicago, said she went on a trip to learn more about Utah’s plants and animals and the ecology of the conversation. “The ability to travel and learn first-hand about different biomes – especially with teachers who can help guide field explorations – is something I’ve always wanted to do, learned a lot from. and for which I am very grateful,” she said.
Chmielowicz added that some of his favorite moments from the trip were watching the sunset cast Fisher Towers in a warm glow, hosting an impromptu talent show at camp one night, and paddling with other students while listening to a shared Spotify playlist. “I’ll never forget that moment, floating down the Colorado River, looking at mountains and trees, showing off different animals, with new and old friends, singing along with Tyler Childers,” she said.
Rory Trani ’24, a double major in environmental science and urban studies from Corbett, Oregon, said the trip helped her conceptualize the complex relationship between the natural world and those who live in it, highlighting the interdisciplinary nature of environmental sciences. “During my time in Utah, I learned countless things about the flora, fauna, and geology of Utah and how these elements interact with each other to shape the desert biome” , she said. “We also learned about the lives and traditions of Native Americans who lived in the part of Utah we visited.”
“One of my favorite memories was stargazing in Arches National Park with several other students, while Professor Falk showed us how to use binoculars to see the stars better,” Trani added. “I believe that experiences outside of the classroom like the Utah field trip provide students with the opportunity to form lasting relationships with other students and faculty who have similar interests, so that we can continue to learn the each other and better understand the material being taught in the classroom.”
The students prepared for the trip by conducting research to create a field guide that all participants could refer to. The students said that even with their intensive preparation, nothing compared to actually being in Utah.
“The biggest highlight for me was camping and hiking in Arches National Park; the spectacle was our sunrise hike to the famous delicate arch,” said Hailey Sussman, 25, of Westford, Massachusetts, who is majoring in environmental science and a minor in German studies. “Before the trip, I wrote an article on the local geology in Arches. I had spent hours researching the geological history of the site, collecting images and getting an idea of what to expect. Nothing, not even hours of research, could have prepared me for the moment our van pulled into the park. Before me were the arkosic sandstones, the monoliths and of course the arches that I had become so familiar with. My mind was blown.
Students and faculty discussed rock samples and identified animal and plant tracks they spotted during their travels. “Every moment was a learning experience,” Sussman said. “The memories and friendships I made on this trip are the kind of things that will last a lifetime.”
Pitt agreed that relationships and shared experiences are important takeaways. “While these trips allow students to observe and learn about the ecosystems they discover in the classroom, they also allow faculty and students to get to know each other outside of a classroom and make deeper connections. .”
Gourley added, “Being able to teach outside of the classroom in a non-traditional way is something all of our students appreciate. Alumni come back and talk about field trips before talking about a specific conference. The ability to go out and learn is something we pride ourselves on in environmental science – it’s what we strive for.
See more photos in the gallery below.
Learn more about environmental science at Trinity here.