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Semester in the West: Report from the road

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 in its final stages, 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 remain on the road through November. During their travels, the 21 Whitman students, professor, two staff members – plus a dog – have tent-camped and met 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.

Throughout the semester, “Westies” will write about their experiences, sharing their learning and discoveries from the road. This week, Natalie Jamerson ’13 writes in from Southern California.

Jamerson Natalie Jamerson
  • Name: Natalie Jamerson
  • Major: Environmental studies-biology
  • Expected graduation date: 2013
  • Hometown: Mercer Island, Wash.
  • Clubs/Activities involved in on campus: Student Agriculture at Whitman, Campus Climate Challenge, Campus Greens, Sustainability Advisory Committee

From where are you writing this?

To wrap up a semester of learning about public lands in the American West, we are currently on the Tejon Ranch in Southern California.

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

Recently I have gained a multifaceted view on solar power projects, especially the contrast between decentralized and large scale projects. I’ve found that the benefits to household solar are outstanding – installing photovoltaic panels is a reliable investment on a source of power that isn’t going to disappear. I’ve learned about feed-in tariffs and other state funds that offer financial incentives for homeowners when they decide to install solar panels. It seems like a great investment to make, both financially and environmentally!

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

One of the hardest aspects of Semester in the West is living out of one duffle bag and having only a few sets of clothes. Conversely, it has made me think less about possessions and let me focus on the experiences at hand. Though I have spent many nights in a down coat and wool socks, being outside for three months has given me valuable experience in living lightly and pragmatically.

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

A significant benefit of Semester in the West is the exposure we have towards all opinions and perspectives on issues ranging from wolf reintroduction to cattle grazing to coal plants. When interacting with individuals across the West, I have gained an appreciation for the language that has to be used to cross political, social and cultural boundaries when discussing a sensitive topic such as climate change. I have realized that it is much more than a scientific phenomenon but a concept that changes relationships and decision-making.

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

I have had the opportunity to work with many professional ecologists, which have given me a source of inspiration and direction when thinking about how I can play a role in environmental science. Whether it be monitoring the erosion of a stream bed due to cattle or looking at the changing habitats of grasses in the Southwest, there are so many important opportunities for research.

A message to send back to the Whitman community: What you want them to know about your experience so far?

Communication and collaboration go a long way. I’ve learned how to listen and to express my ideas when interacting with people from all walks of life.

Final thought:

Sleep out under the stars; it’s a great way to live!

Published on Nov 18, 2010
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