Freshmen tour Great Lakes, get early introduction to college

Six incoming freshmen began their college experience early last summer when they traveled to the Great Lakes during a 16-day, field-based course called “Exploring the Great Lakes: Environments and Cultures.”

Developed by Dr. Holly Myers, Center for Environmental Programs, the course was part of BGSU on the Road, a new program that gives students the opportunity to earn six credits while meeting faculty and other students in a unique setting.

The course began in late June and ended in early July. The first two days, which were spent on campus, were an introduction to the trip, environmental studies and cultural geography. The next 14 days were spent traveling to Milwaukee, Wis.; Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and Toronto and Montreal, Canada. During their travels, students fulfilled the requirements for both Environmental Studies 101-Introduction to Environmental Studies, taught by Christine Onasch, environmental programs; and Geography 230-Cultural Geography, taught by Myers.

“The Great Lakes is one of the most interesting areas we have,” Myers said. “As a cultural region, it was settled east to west, but as a natural system it evolved west to east. We want to look at the impact and role of humans in a watershed.”

The trip also offered students the cultural contrasts of being in Watertown, N.Y., on the Fourth of July and Toronto on Canada Day and of differences between English and French Canada. “We also want to look at the culture of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—is it different, and how does it reflect people’s perception of the environment?” Myers said of the “very values-oriented” cultural geography class.
Along with learning about the world around them, students went kayaking, were underground in a silver and nickel mine for an hour, and went under Niagara Falls.

Freshman Melissa Miller thought the trip was a good introduction to college life. “We were on our own for over two weeks, and we all bonded together and learned from each other and learned more about ourselves.”

Bernadette Wiggin, another participant, agreed. “Doing this gave me a hint as to what will be expected of me in college in terms of academics and socializing with a variety of people.”

“I hope the students improved their observation skills and their ability to read the landscape to gain a better understanding both of the past and the present,” Myers said. “I also hope the students now have a better understanding of the importance of the Great Lakes as both an ecosystem and a cultural region.”

From an environmental awareness perspective, “students take away a better appreciation for environmental impacts, both positive and negative for everyday choices—how far to drive, how cold the air conditioner is, how much electricity to use and how it affects everything else,” said Onasch.

Participants took away much more than environmental studies and geography knowledge, they said following the trip.

“I gained a better understanding of who I am and where I am from,” said Wiggin. “Living in Michigan, I grew up in the middle of the Great Lakes and never fully appreciated all that they have to offer not only to the surrounding states, but to the entire world.

“I have traveled to 12 other countries including Australia, Belgium, Switzerland, France and Germany. While I have seen the world, I have barely seen my own country and participating in this program gave me that chance. This was a great experience and I will benefit from it for years to come,” she added.

Although the classes were taught mostly outside the classroom, students still had their work cut out for them. They were required to read The Living Great Lakes by Jerry Dennis and take two midterms on the road. Travel time was spent watching educational videos and PowerPoint presentations.

Myers also required students to write a journal entry every day.

Once they returned, students had to complete five assignments and take a final exam for both classes. The finals were based on the experiences from the trip and the PowerPoint presentations.

Students interested in art and ethnic studies were encouraged to attend “Exploring Art and Culture of the Southwest.” During that trip, the group traveled to San Antonio and El Paso, Texas, and the Navaho Nation, New Mexico.

Along with the knowledge gained through BGSU on the Road, students also saved money on tuition. They earned six credits for the price of four, a savings of $780. Although the trip is geared primarily toward freshmen, students of any age may attend.

Continuing and Extended Education plans to continue the program next summer.

November 13, 2007