Whitman College’s Semester in the West is a seven-state, semester-long academic journey led by Phil Brick, Miles C. Moore Professor of Political Science. Now back at home base – Whitman’s Johnston Wilderness Campus – the interdisciplinary traveling classroom has meandered from the Northwest through California, Utah and Nevada to New Mexico, Idaho, Colorado and New Mexico, enabling students to take a first-hand and in-depth look at some of the most timely and significant environmental, social and political issues facing the western U.S.

The group left campus Aug. 28 and will returned to the Walla Walla Valley just before Thanksgiving. During their travels, the 21 Whitman students, professor, two staff members – plus a dog – tent-camped and met with an eclectic mix of activists, including writers, ranchers, miners, labor organizers, historians, economists, cowboys and Native Americans. On Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, the "Westies" will share their experiences with the campus community at a presentation titled "Western Epiphanies." This is the fifth edition of the biannual program.

Throughout the semester, the participants wrote about their experiences, sharing their learning and discoveries from the road. This final installment comes from Lisa Beneman ’13, who wrote from Southern California.

Lisa Beneman

Semester in the West: Student Profile

  • Name: Lisa Beneman
  • Major: Politics - environmental studies
  • Expected graduation date: 2013
  • Hometown: Scarborough, Maine
  • Clubs/Activities involved in on campus: Campus Greens, Campus Climate Challenge, The Organic Garden, Mentoring Program

From where are you writing this?

Tejon Ranch, near Gorman, Calif.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned in the past week?

In the past week we’ve been focusing on solar energy. What has been really interesting to me is the debate over rooftop versus utility solar and the effect renewable energy can have on the environment. When talking about renewables, specifically solar, it is easy to get caught up in all the good aspects of it, but in reality even renewable energy sources can be detrimental to the environment, mostly through how they are produced and installed.

What are the best and most challenging aspects of living life on the road?

Living on the road is both amazingly freeing and challenging. The hardest part for me is not being able to grocery shop for myself. We eat very well, but I love making my own food choices. The best part of being on the road is all the places I’ve been able to see. I hadn’t been to a single location we’ve visited all semester.

How has your perspective on climate change evolved since you began this journey?

Through this journey I’ve realized that we are fighting a losing battle when it comes to climate change, but I’ve also been able to make terms with that and still be ready for the fight of my life.

How do you think your SITW experience will shape the rest of your college experience/career/life?

I think that in the rest of my time at Whitman my SITW experience will be important to everything I learn. Climate change is a subject that broaches all areas of study and I can’t imagine not bringing this experience into my other learning.

What do you want the Whitman community to know about your experience?

The biggest message I have to share is that there is always more to learn. I never imagined the complexity of the politics just here in the American West, even spending a whole semester studying them I feel I have only managed to skim the surface.

Final thought:

I want to encourage everyone who is at Whitman to attend the Western Epiphanies presentations on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. There should be posters going up around campus with the details. This is the one opportunity the Whitman community has to hear writing read publicly from each of the SITW students.