Students spend semester "abroad" in Idaho wild

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 5, 2014 at 4:35 pm •  Published: January 5, 2014
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SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Some college students spend semesters away from school contemplating art at the Louvre in Paris, exploring pyramids in Egypt or trekking across China.

But for about a dozen students from around the nation their time off campus this fall meant going deep into the Pacific Northwestern wilderness, backpacking through mountains, studying river ecology and waiting on weekly air supply drops.

The novel program from the University of Idaho dropped college students in one of the most remote locations in the U.S. for more than two months, giving them a unique sense of what organizers call the "complex and symbolic" American West.

"This was something that was much more exciting than a semester abroad for me," said Bonnie Ricord, a junior from Empire, Mich.

Students who study abroad are immersed in foreign cultures to expand their learning in ways that aren't possible in a traditional classroom.

The Semester in the Wild program, which completed its first session at the end of last month, has the same goals. But instead of sending students far beyond U.S. borders, educators here have them travel deep within to Idaho's Frank Church-River of No Return wilderness, an area about 150 miles northeast of Boise and almost completely cut off from the outside world.

There the 11 students shared a cabin without cell service, 35 miles from any road. The nearest town was more than four hours away, and mail, food and supplies were delivered weekly by bush plane. Energy came from solar panels and a small hydroelectric project in a nearby creek — but those power sources balked as days grew shorter and the stream froze over.

Other university programs provide students with a chance to spend time in federally designated wilderness areas. But part of what makes the Idaho program unique is the coursework, English professor Scott Slovic said.



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