Welcome to the Journal of the Sierra College Natural History Museum
Keely Carroll, Executive Editor
2011 Special Edition, in celebration of the 75th Anniversary
of Sierra College
Field Trips at Sierra College
Sierra College is a very special place. I know that my making that statement is something akin to a parent proclaiming that their child is brilliant but it really is true. Previous editions of this journal have highlighted this fact, from our articles on our Museum of Natural History to articles that have highlighted our course offerings, but there is another thing that makes this college special: it’s extensive field course offerings. Sierra College has over 35 field course offerings. These are courses that are taught entirely in the field which means that this count doesn’t include many additional courses which are taught in a classroom but include some sort of field component in the curriculum.
Field trips enhance learning
Field courses are unique. A typical field course involves students traveling with a professor to a specific location, be it near or far, to learn about the environments of that specific location. Courses can last a day, a weekend, a week or even longer. Students learn by experiencing the environment itself. Students also learn by doing the type of work that is particular to that discipline. For example, some of the fossils contained in the Natural History Museum collection were obtained by students during those field courses. We have field courses that examine local ecosystems, ecosystems outside of California and we have even had field courses that traveled outside of our nation’s borders.
Students in these field courses often feel changed by the experience. To really give the readers of this issue a feeling of what it is like to participate in one of these classes I thought that student testimonial would work best. This issue contains an article by a student named Josena Aiello entitled “Finding Passion”. In her article Josena talks about how a single field course altered the trajectory of her entire life. This edition also includes additional student testimonial gathered from two of our students on a recent field course trip to the North Coast. Field studies can be very useful in teaching students about nature but they can also be useful in other disciplines as well. The article by Luseanne Raass about her visit to Glide Memorial Church with her sociology class talks about how that visit helped to crystallize in her mind the concepts taught in that class.
Students have become instructors
Lest we forget, many of the instructors at Sierra College were students once too. Articles by Shawna Martinez and Dick Hilton discuss how field courses shaped their futures. Two of the most vocal advocates of our field programs, Professors Martinez and Hilton attribute their passion for field courses to those early experiences. This issue also includes an article by Kristine Gilbert that talks about how she has seen field courses affect her students through the years.
The Sierra College field studies program did not arise overnight; it was the product of the work of several members of the campus from different disciplines. An article by Jim Wilson entitled “Biological Sciences’ Field Studies Program: A History” touches on some of that past.
Budget cuts hurt
While I would like to say that this edition is purely a celebration of a wonderful program that has helped student learning and given students unforgettable experiences, that is not the case. I must admit that this issue is as much of a plea for protection and a reminder of why it is important to be outside, as it is a sharing of great experiences from that program. Why is this sort of plea needed in the first place? Budget cuts! We all seem to be feeling the pinch from budget cuts these days. It doesn’t really matter if you work in the public or the private sector any more, budget cuts seem to be affecting us all and Sierra College is no exception.
The college has been asked repeatedly to cut courses. In fact we have had to cut so many courses that we have needed to create guidelines as to which courses to cut first and which to cut last. Unfortunately, since few people seem to understand the important effect on student learning field courses can have, these courses are listed as the ones to cut first. In the last year alone we have cut over 6 of these courses from what was already a “bare bones” schedule. Outside of those who participate in field courses, there are few who really truly comprehend the value of these classes and often only see them as personal enrichment courses.
To demonstrate the real value of field courses we have an article by David Wyatt entitled “Why Keep Field Programs” which illustrates, using actual data, how student success is improved when a field component is added to a class. Joe Medeiros contributes another article to the Journal with his article entitled “Field Trippin’” which discusses how field courses are important in shaping our worldview. In his second contribution to this edition Jim Wilson has written an article entitled “The Importance of Field Studies” which lists out all of the benefits of that program.
Go play outside!
Finally, I have contributed an article entitled “Go Play Outside” which conveys, hopefully, my worries that I have that we are loosing touch with the natural world because it seems that children only go outside anymore to do structured activities.
Think back to your fondest childhood memories and I would wager that many of them involve being outside. Whether it is a memory of camping, hiking, playing in a creek, playing a pick-up game or just a family picnic, many fond memories come from being outside. The picture on this page is of my children coming back down from the Mist Trail in Yosemite. It was a spur of the moment trip. Just the kids and I, their dad was out of town with some friends. I had never taken the kids out of town for a weekend without their dad before and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle both of them. Yet, as we walked down that trail, I looked ahead at my kids, spontaneously walking hand-in-hand, I realized that, at that moment, I was experiencing what would become one of the most beautiful memories that I will ever have.
Nearly all of my favorite memories are from being outside which is why I feel so strongly that the field course experience must be preserved. I know that during these times of belt tightening that we must all do our part but perhaps some of us shouldn’t have to tighten our belts so much more than others. Field courses improve student success, shape lives and create memories that last a lifetime.
Keely Carroll, Executive Editor