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. The interdisciplinary traveling classroom meanders 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.
During their travels, the 21 Whitman students, the professor, two staff members – plus a dog – are tent-camping and meeting with an eclectic mix of activists, including writers, ranchers, miners, labor organizers, historians, economists, cowboys and Native Americans. This is the fifth edition of the biannual program.
The group left campus Aug. 28 and will remain on the road through November. Students receive 16 credit hours for successful completion of the class. They earn four credits each in each of four academic disciplines – politics, environmental studies, biology, and rhetoric and film studies.
Throughout the semester, “Westies” will write about their experiences, sharing their learning and discoveries from the road. This week, Tom Glass ’13 writes in from New Mexico.
Name: Tom Glass
Expected graduation date: 2013
Hometown: Idaho City, Id.
Clubs/Activities involved in on campus: KWCW; Whitman Christian Fellowship; Atheists, Humanist and Agnostics (AHA)
- From where are you writing this?
At the moment I'm sitting in the SITW trailer, our cozy mobile classroom/library/office/home. It’s a converted horse trailer, now fully equipped with all the latest in studying gear, internet, solar power, bookshelves, etc. There are 12 others sitting around me, doing readings for the coming week, signing up for classes for next semester, checking their e-mail and escaping the cold. We're camped tonight outside of Santa Fe, NM. I think we're no more than 5 or 10 miles from downtown as the crow flies, but we can only tell that by the slight glow coming over the trees. The stars are out, it's cold and it feels like we're perfectly in the middle of nowhere.
- What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned in the past week?
This week we spent the majority of our time with nature writer Bill deBuys at his home in the mountains just outside of Santa Fe. While his specialty is writing, and we did focus quite a bit on our own pieces while with him, I found the most interesting subject of the week to be the history of the area, including the strong influences from both native cultures and the Spanish who inhabited the area for many centuries. The combination of the influences is still extremely obvious in the area today, making it very neat to walk around and get a feel for the place.
- What are the best and most challenging aspects of living life on the road?
For me, I think the best is just the number of places that we're visiting that I've always wanted to see. I grew up in Idaho but had very little opportunity to see much of the Southwest, so it's been great to be able to get to know it through the people who call it home. The most challenging is probably just having to pack up my duffel every travel morning. Those are the mornings that I most miss my messy, messy floor at home.
- How has your perspective on climate change evolved since you began this journey?
I think that the most important way that my perspective has shifted is regarding the mental focus with which I'm finding that I have to approach it. We met with a man named Auden Schendler a couple of weeks ago who spoke with us about how he has found that the most effective way to tackle it, on a day to day basis, is with his mind focused completely on the present, rather than on what he might accomplish with his work. I think that it is a valuable mindset to be able to put myself in – to obtain and be aware of all of the data, facts, predictions, etc., but then to put those things out of my mind when I actually get to doing something about it.
- How do you think your SITW experience will shape the rest of your college experience/career/life?
I think I will leave this experience with a greater drive to understand the place that I call home. Definitely one of the overarching themes of the course so far has been the necessity of understanding how you interact with and affect that places that you live.
- A message to send back to the Whitman community: What you want them to know about your experience so far?
Having a blast! Excited to get back, but thoroughly enjoying myself out here.
- Final thought:
It's 9:30 pm. Someone just came in the trailer and announced that their sleeping pad has frost on it. Time to heat up a bottle of water and hit the sleeping bag.