At Macalester, like many colleges, most academic learning takes place in the classroom. Geology students walk over to Olin-Rice to learn about carbonate rocks and sedimentology, and Classics students head to Old Main to discuss ancient Roman architecture and archaeology. This January, however, 40 students participated in Macalester’s short-term study trips and studied what they love on-site.
The Geology department—led by professors Ray Rogers, Kristi Curry Rogers and Jeff Thole—traveled to San Salvador Island in the Bahamas for 11 days. The group stayed at the Gerace Research Centre, and spent about nine hours every day outdoors either hiking or snorkeling.
“During the first half of the trip, students explored the island and observed ecological and geological aspects of the rocks, reefs and caves,” said Rogers, the main coordinator of the Bahamas trip. “The second half was dedicated to student group research. So, we were outside in the sun every day.”
The Geology department advertised the trip within the department in September 2013. The faculty intended to spread the word to rest of the campus soon after, but the spots had already filled up within the first two days.
“We haven’t run a [J-term] trip for four years, so it filled up very quickly. The [Geology] students really wanted to go,” Rogers said.
Students on the Classics department trip did not hike or snorkel, but walked around Rome day and night to visit ancient Roman ruins, cathedrals, sculptures and paintings. The group stayed in Rome for a total of 11 days, and visited Pompeii for two days. Professors Beth Severy-Hoven, Andy Overman, Nanette Goldman, and Brian Lush led the trip, with Nancy Bostrom of the Assessment Office accompanying the group.
The Rome trip did not always have all the students traveling together, and dedicated substantial amount of instruction time to making sense of the city’s geography.
“It was important to [the faculty] for students to have the opportunity to figure out on their own how to arrive at sites, order at restaurants, and navigate through the city in a culturally appropriate way,” Severy-Hoven said.
While the planning took months for both departments, it certainly wasn’t the first time going to their respective sites. The Geology department has visited San Salvador and the Gerace Research Centre four times since 1998, and the Classics department has gone to Rome five times. They added Alexandria, Egypt to the itinerary once in January 2011 to include the Arabic component of the department. This year, the group could not travel to Egypt due to the country’s political instability.
Students on both trips credited the faculty for balancing the time given for lecture and leisure and maintaining good group dynamics.
“[The balance] was great,” said Ellie Heaton ’16, who traveled with the Classics department. “We’d be ready by nine in the morning, and that’s usually after we had [a cup of cappuccino] or two. Also, we had a lot of evenings, afternoons, and mornings off, and even had a free day to travel on our own. My friends and I actually went to Orvieto [a small medieval town in Tuscany] on the free day.”
Heaton described the experience of walking through the ancient ruins as “unbelievable,” saying, “it was as if I was just passing by some trees.”
Students who traveled with the Geology department also enjoyed a casual atmosphere. “I felt like it was a Rogers family vacation with Uncle Jeff [Thole],” said Joey Frankl ’14.
Jessie Shields ’15, who had never traveled abroad or seen the ocean before, thanked the Geology department for giving her a chance to have a study abroad experience.
“First day I got there,” he said, “I just jumped into the ocean.” Students valued the faculty’s high level of interest in not only the students, but also the history and nature of the sites. “The professors are so down-to-earth and willing to interact with students,” Frankl said. “I really liked getting to know them in a stress-free environment.”
Rachel Banen ’16, a Rome trip participant, said, “I admire the knowledge [of the city] that the professors had and their genuine love for Roman history.”
Two of the student groups on the Bahamas trip are continuing their research for the senior capstone project, and Heaton, a current sophomore, is planning to go back to Italy for a semester next year.
The leaders of both trips could not think of any major changes to be made, but Severy-Hoven said that she’d like to see more support from the college. The departments voluntarily organize the trips, so the college does not recognize the faculty’s instruction time as part of their teaching load. No professor on the Classics department trip was paid for his or her instruction. Overall, however, the latest journey was an improvement on years’ past.
“This year, there were steps in the right direction,” Severy-Hoven said. “The International Center helped us with some paperwork, and the financial aspect worked out better this time. We organize these trips because we think it is important for the college and the students.”
Students had a number of reasons for finding the trips important. Paul Schubring ’15 fulfilled his study away requirement for his Classics major through the trip, and met a lot of new people in the process.
“I had a couple of friends who were also going, but didn’t realize I’d get close to everyone,” he said. Margo Yaravitz ’14, a Bahamas trip participant, also enjoyed the company of her classmates and professors. She considers riding in the back of the truck to the ocean as one of her favorite moments of the trip.
“Singing in the back of the truck, seeing the blue water, and hair blowing in the wind,” she said, “it was awesome.”