Outdoor field classes highlight summer, May sessions

SBy Charlene Dick

Some students expect field experience and adventure outside the Twin Cities campus during May and summer sessions.

From studying wildlife in northern Minnesota to contemplating the meaning of human life in southern Minnesota, summer study opportunities have evolved since the University introduced the May session option three years ago.

The University introduced the option, which also includes study-abroad opportunities, after the institution converted from a quarter-based to a semester-based calendar. The change created an open month in spring for unusual or concentrated study, University summer session director Jack Johnson said.

The University already has close to 3,000 students enrolled to participate in various three-week classes this year.

“From a student’s point of view, you can take a single concentrated course immediately following spring semester and still have most of the summer free to do other things,” Johnson said.

At Lake Itasca Forestry and Biological Station, approximately 225 miles northwest of Minneapolis, approximately 50 students will trap mammals, collect insects, observe birds and learn field photography while doing original research projects.

Though not part of May session per se, courses at the Itasca Biological Station start after Memorial Day, with courses staggered between May 28 and July 1.

University junior Arion Vandergon, a fisheries and wildlife major, is one of those students. He will focus on ornithology and mammalogy, two of 11 undergraduate field courses in the program.

During class, he will be “capturing birds Ö I’m looking forward to being outside and learning about their actual habitats,” Vandergon said.

At Itasca, time spent indoors is time wasted, ornithology professor Robert Zink said.

Vandergon and his classmates will spend two full days each week outdoors with Zink.

The mammalogy class will fill two other weekdays during the five-week session, leaving one day for homework and research. At night, Itasca students can swim, canoe, kayak, play volleyball and sleep in cabins or tents.

While meals and lodging at the campus can cost $175 per week, and while the short time frame of summer session also usually forces students to pay rent at campus apartments, the expenses are worth it, said past program participant Lisa Hyatt, a biology senior.

“(Itasca) has multiple habitats in the same area, so you get to see a real diversity of species, both plant and animal,” Hyatt said.

Vandergon and others enrolled in the program will camp in tents and cook for themselves to cut expenses.

Field experience in philosophy

This May session, undergraduate students will form a commune for 18 days with four philosophy instructors at a farm near Windom, Minn., approximately 200 miles southwest of the Twin Cities. While cooking and eating meals together, approximately 15 students will ponder what makes life – both personal and professional – worthwhile, in a class titled “Lives Worth Living.”

The structured, large-group discussions between meals will be less important in and of themselves than the spontaneous, one-on-one conversations they stimulate afterward each day, course director John Wallace said.

The relational aspect of the course is reassuring, past participant Jason Ketola said.

“(The interaction) brings the human-ness back to the education experience. Learning during the normal semester is often pretty sterile,” said Ketola, a philosophy and psychology sophomore.

Johnson said he expects final enrollment numbers to be similar to the 2002 enrollment of 2,887 students. In 2001, Johnson said, 2,607 students participated, compared to 2,724 in 2000.

While the Itasca station students are likely to fulfill specific requirements for their majors, “Lives Worth Living” will draw students from a broad range of disciplines. However, students in both programs seem to share a desire to expedite graduation.

Amber Albertson, a University senior studying art, will take “Lives Worth Living” to catch up on credits. Struggling with disabilities including attention deficit disorder, she was forced to only attend school part time this semester. Participating in May session will possibly allow her to graduate next fall.

Albertson said she looks forward to the philosophers’ commune, including the community service projects, farm animals and cooking for meals.

“It’s a class and I know I’m going to be doing work, but it sounds like a vacation,” she said.

Vandergon expressed similar thinking as he strives to graduate by next year.

“I really want to be outside for the summer and at the same time get some credits out of the way,” he said.

Charlene Dick is a freelance writer. The freelance editor welcomes comments at [email protected]