Students got far away from the ordinary classroom over winter break as they canoed over 100 miles through the Everglades.
The trip was conceived, planned and led by Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Nic Mink.
“I have a passion for long distance paddling,” Mink said. He planned the trip as a way to share this passion with students.
The goals of the trip were to “have students get an intimate view of multiple ecosystems … and a sense of wonder about nature,” and for students to “critically understand how people use and value wilderness area,” Mink said.
Learning in nature
The trip was an experiential component of a class taught by Mink in the fall on U.S. National Parks. Students also took a half-credit course specifically to prepare for the trip.
Senior Audrey Todd found that it was a valuable experience to be “away from libraries, books and computers, but still having this intellectual experience.”
Before the trip, each student was assigned a topic to present to the group one of the nights they were there. Topics ranged from mangroves to Edgar Watson, a famous outlaw from the area.
Before the trip students were also divided into two groups, with one researching the water systems and the other focusing on the history of native peoples and early settlers in the everglades.
A highlight of the trip for many students was meeting people from the Army Corps of Engineers, who designed the water systems they had been studying. Sophomore Nora McGinn loved being able to “see the physical place I had done so much research on … literally swim in the water I was talking about managing.”
Senior Aaron Barton said the field experience “made it so much more worthwhile and purposeful to take the class,” explaining that what he learned in the Everglades stuck with him more.
Living in nature
Barton thought that “the class brought together the majority of what we talked about in the class,” including things such as leave-no-trace camping and the idea of primitive recreation without modern technology.
Senior Dexter Brown enjoyed “getting away from the everyday grind of being in civilization … it was just a peaceful place to be.”
There’s something “very magical about being in a canoe and experiencing nature,” Mink said.
Barton loved being able to “slow down and take everything in,” particularly the wildlife, including crocs, gators, sharks and roseate spoonbills, a rare bird in the Everglades.
The trip was difficult for students as well, since many students are not accustomed to living so rustically or doing so much canoeing, including Todd, who saw the trip as an opportunity to “test my abilities.”
“Overcoming that was what made this trip a success and satisfying to students,” Mink said.
“It was a very valuable experience to live that close with nine other people. Sometimes it was overwhelming and you wanted to get space,” Todd said.
For most of the trip students canoed all day and stayed on “chickees,” small, wooden platforms in the water.
“There wasn’t much escaping,” Barton said. “Living that close to people, you get to know them pretty quick,” which, he said, taught members of the group to settle and compromise.
McGinn found getting to know other environmental studies majors and people interested in environmental issues, as well at her professor, to be one of the highlights of the trip. Although she did not know most of the other participants very well before the trip and the group came from diverse backgrounds, it was “interesting to see how we work together,” she said, adding excitedly, “We made it back to society.”
Although Mink “probably wouldn’t do the same course again because it wouldn’t be as special,” he is teaching a course with a similar field component in Alaska in the spring. He is also planning another different trip for the spring of 2014.
“The entire trip was a whole bunch of moments to be remembered,” Brown said.