Whitman alumna converts the lessons she learned during Semester In The West into a career writing for High Country News.
Sarah Gilman ’04
Where can Whitman’s Semester In The West program take you? For Sarah Gilman ’04, the time spent exploring the American West informed a news piece she wrote about U.S. college field programs for High Country News.
It also helped the former art and biology major land a job as associate editor for HCN, a magazine and website devoted to the important issues and stories that define the American West.
While a student at Whitman, Gilman went on one of the first SITW trips in the fall of 2002, and it changed the way she understood environmentalism and public land issues in the U.S. It motivated her to share her experiences on a national scale through journalism.
“I didn’t spend any time writing for newspapers in college, but Semester In The West gave me exposure to issues that I’m passionate about, issues that High Country News Covers,” Gilman said.
Though Whitman doesn't offer a journalism curriculum, Gilman found her calling in the field and has been working for High Country News for the last five years. She credits SITW and other environmental studies courses at Whitman with broadening her interests in writing beyond the college classroom.
“Most of what I wrote on Semester In The West was poetry, but it opened up a whole new world for me,” she said. “Developing a facility with all forms of writing – poetry, essays – helps you figure out what your personal writing voice is and how best to communicate important issues to others.”
Miles C. Moore Professor of Political Science and SITW Director Phil Brick said issues that SITW addressed in earlier years were topics he read about in High Country News.
“High Country News was a part of the conceptualization of SITW,” Brick said. “We’ve visited the paper every year since Sarah was a part of the program, except for once.”
Last October, Gilman joined 66 other Whitman alumni at Comb Ridge, an isolated desert area about six hours form Salt Lake City, Utah, for the 10-year reunion of SITW.
“I attended the reunion to see friends I hadn't seen in years, to hang out with them in a beautiful place where we could sleep under the stars and swim in a desert river, and to meet others who went on the program long after me,” she said.
For Gilman, it was important to go to the reunion because experiential learning programs like SITW are vital for students to fully understand topics about which they are studying and writing.
“I think direct experience is one of the best forms of learning,” Gilman said.