Spring course will allow students to experience national parks

Release Date: 12/10/2012

Next semester, Ozarks students will have the opportunity to spend 13 days traveling around the nation experiencing America's greatest treasure: her national parks.

Every year, many Ozarks students take advantage of travel opportunities offered through Ozarks Abroad courses. However, those trips focus on international travel. Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies Dr. Jesse Weiss decided to develop a course that explored some of this nation's offerings.

"We try to emphasize experiential learning in environmental studies and many classes take field trips," Weiss said. "However, I have always wanted to be able to expand the classroom to areas outside of Arkansas.  It has been my goal to develop a 'study away' program within the environmental studies major that was modeled on our study abroad concept.  The idea is to study something in the classroom and then go to the place we have studied about."

The 2013 Spring Semester course, called National Parks, will study the history and development of America's national parks. The class will also delve into the social constructs behind these protected areas.

Dr. Jesse Weiss

Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies Dr. Jesse Weiss will teach a 2013 Spring Semester course that will allow students to experience several of the nation's national parks.

"The in-class part of the course will examine the way the social definitions of places influence the way that we behave toward those places," Weiss said. "One area is special and should be protected while another is not and can be used or destroyed.  We will apply these ideas of the social construction of nature to various national parks that we will be studying and eventually visiting."

Weiss hopes that by exposing his students to these protected areas and dissecting their own social beliefs about them, the class might begin to question whether or not there are other areas of the world that deserve protection.

"This class is important because it teaches the relationship between social definitions and behavior.  We act toward things individually and collectively based on the meaning those things have for us.  If we want to understand why we are destroying our ecosystem, part of the equation has to do with the way we are taught to value some things over others," Weiss said.

The reality of America's national parks will be driven home to the students in May during a 13-day road trip spanning from South Dakota to Arizona.

"During class, I will be preparing the students for the trip by teaching them how to hike, camp, and prepare food using the Leave No Trace method," Weiss said. "We will visit the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, Arches, Canyonlands, and the Grand Canyon.  The students will be camping and hiking in the national parks and will learn, first hand, how and why these places are protected."

The goal of the course is to allow the students to experience a national park system that is the envy of most other nations while still driving home the need to protect America's wild places.

"In order to do something to protect our national treasures, it is necessary to educate people on the process and teach them that these places are important," he said. "If we educate and change our social meanings, maybe we will continue to protect these places and perhaps decided to protect others as well.  What better way to get this point across then to take students to experience these places directly."