University News

SUU Reinvents Outdoor Education with Nationally-Funded Program

Published: May 08, 2008 | Category: Academics

Southern Utah University will kick off its nationally-funded Partners in the Parks program (PIP) for 2008 next Monday, May 12, in a six-day academic adventure program for college honors students from across the nation at Zion National Park.

Next week’s program in Zion will be the first of six PIP trips for 2008. Though three of this year’s planned adventures – in Zion, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon – are fairly local to SUU’s geographic reach, this year’s programming also includes distant locales such as Acadia National Park in Maine, the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument outside of Tucson, AZ, the Pinacate Biosphere Reserve in Mexico, and studies at National Parks System historical sites in New York City.

With programmatic funding from the Centennial Challenge run through the National Park Service and from Southern Utah University, and with input from the National Collegiate Honors Council and a Parks sponsorship from Cedar Breaks National Monument, Partners in the Parks, which is run by SUU faculty members, is designed to use national parks as the classroom in which students learn about everything from archeology and soundscapes to social constructs and historical preservation.

According to PIP Director and SUU English Professor Todd Robert Petersen, this program is unlike any other because it both immerses students in the wilderness while simultaneously focusing on critical thinking in an academic setting. States Petersen, “We’re going to hike these students in seven miles and then sit them down to have a class.”

Both Petersen and PIP Co-Director Matt Nickerson, director of SUU’s Honors Program, emphasize Partners in the Parks’ three-pronged approach that engages an academic mindset and the use of outdoor survival skills all while fostering both wilderness and civic stewardship.

After a short pilot program in Bryce Canyon National Park last year to implement the National Collegiate Honors Council’s “Place as Text” methodology, this year’s beginning of Partners in the Parks marks a first nationally, as it is unlike anything else being offered through other institutes of higher education.

In fact, the National Parks Service hopes to use SUU’s program to coordinate all academic adventure programs within U.S. National Parks.

Of the $50 million granted to individual parks and organizations through the National Park Centennial Initiative, funding for PIP was the only grant awarded to a program with multiple projects, varied groups of participants and a wide variety of parks rather than just to one group working with one park.

In addition, SUU was one of only five higher education institutions to directly benefit from the national Centennial funding.

According to SUU President Michael Benson, “Beyond the obvious benefit this funding will have amongst students and the Parks, this program is also a great example of creative faculty members at SUU looking to partner with local entities, like Cedar Breaks, to benefit students in a meaningful and powerful way.”

States Benson, “The quality of SUU’s academic and extra-curricular programs is being recognized nationally. Partnerships such as this between SUU and the National Parks further enhance our niche as the University with ‘Outdoors Everything’.”

With its close proximity to countless wilderness opportunities, and with programs both inside and outside the classroom, that are unlike any other outdoor programs at competing universities, Southern Utah University is rapidly establishing itself as a leader in the outdoor academic experience.

According to a press release from the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior, “The National Park Centennial Initiative is a 10-year program to reinvigorate America’s national parks and prepare them for a second century. The initiative includes a focus on increased funding for park operations.”

Partners in the Parks, sponsored by Cedar Breaks National Monument, takes an entirely new approach to these objectives by focusing on developing National Parks stewardship amongst future policy makers, citizens and patrons to the parks by engaging college-aged honors students within both the wilderness areas and academic subjects of their individual interest.

In this sense, SUU’s Partners in the Parks program is unique in both its wide-spread geographic impact and its potential to continue on far beyond this initial government and University-matched funding.

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