Alumni at Comb Ridge
From left to right: Hayley Mauck ’12, Max Henkels ’12 (up high), Dana Bialek ’11, Natalie Jamerson ’13, Krista Garrett ’12, Mary Patzel ’12, Tom Glass ’13 (in back with hat), Maggie Massey ’12, David McGaughey ’13, Theo Barnhart ’10, Matthew Morriss ’13, Kate Greenberg ’09, Madelyn Peterson ’13, Marcial Diaz ’13, Liesl Olson ’11 (far back, short hair), Elli Matkin ’11, Peter Gurche ’11, Rachel Alexander ’13, Erik Lyon ’12, Lisa Beneman 13, Prof. Phil Brick and Katie Fales ’11. (Photo: Erik Lyon '12)

Sixty-seven Whitman alumni descended upon Comb Ridge, an isolated, rocky, desert area about six hours from Salt Lake City, Utah, for the 10-year reunion of Whitman’s popular Semester In the West program.

Koenigsberg, Taiga, McKrill
Sarah Koenigsberg ’02, Taiga the dog and Corey McKrill ’02. (Photo: Sarah Gilman '02)

Semester in the West takes place every two years and enables a group of Whitman students to spend fall semester exploring the American West while focusing an interdisciplinary lens on public lands, conservation and rural life.

“Our objective is to know the West in its many dimensions, including its diverse ecosystems, its social and political communities, and the many ways these ecosystems and communities find expression in regional environmental writing and public policy,” said Phil Brick, Miles C. Moore professor of political science and SITW director.

Brick sees the American West as a learning laboratory where his SITW students travel more than 8,000 miles, meeting conservationists, ecologists, energy experts, local officials, foresters and community activists, all of whom are shaping the future of the region.

“As SITW turns 10, I am aware now, more than ever, how fortunate I am to work at a place where such a program is possible,” Brick said. “It’s no accident that SITW emerged from the creative, liberal learning culture that prevails at Whitman.”

Nearly 70 percent of SITW alumni attended the reunion, and the high turnout reflects just how much the program helped define the Whitman experience for many of them.

“Semester in the West was the major moment of my college experience,” Liesl Olson ’11 said. “It gave me a place to explore my ideas and notions of Western environmental issues and a chance to strengthen my writing skills, which was greatly beneficial to my time at Whitman.”

While the reunion gave attendees the chance to meet multiple generations of SITW alumni, it was also an opportunity to return to the western frontier. As part of a community service project, current SITW students headed out to build a fence to protect a newly discovered petroglyph of a mammoth. Meanwhile, Brick took alumni on a four-mile hike along the San Juan River to a site rich in petroglyphs.

“A single class at Whitman could never share the bone-chilling experience of a wolf howling, or the awe inspired by rafting through the canyons of the southwest,” Matthew Morriss ’13 said.

—Edward Weinman

2002 Alumni
2002 alumni (the first Westies), left to right: Sarah Gilman, Corey McKrill, Linday Bloom (field manager, holding son Colden), Autumn Ela, Alison Holland, Kalin Schmoldt, Sarah Bronstein and Sarah Koenigsberg. (Photo: Sarah Koenigsberg '02>
Kalin Schmalt
Kalin Schmalt ’02 pauses during a hike led by poet Anne Walka. (Photo: Corey McKrill ’02)

Semester In The West Camp
Semester in the West alumni and students gather at the camp in the evening. (Photo: Corey McKrill ’02)