A Class Designed for Travelers

By The Elm - Oct 31,2012@12:58 pm

By Allison Davis
Elm Staff Writer

The Chesapeake Semester is filled with hands-on experience, connecting ideas from the classroom to nature excursions. Students are selected to join the program and study the history, ecology, and culture of the Chesapeake Bay through this interdisciplinary program from the Center for Environment & Society at Washington College.

The Chesapeake Semester uses campus as their home base, but travels to different land and water resources located near WC. There are journeys that last nine to 10 days and smaller trips as well. The group studies a number of factors affecting the environment of the Chesapeake, while relating their findings to the bigger picture of science, policy, and possible solutions to other issues. Funding for the program is covered primarily by grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund.

Michael Hardesty, the Chesapeake Semester program manager, said that, “The Chesapeake Semester started roughly as a 50/50 split between field experiences and classroom lecture… Over the past four years we have gradually incorporated more content delivery in the field.”

Material is presented on kayak and canoe trips on the Chester, Susquehanna, and Pocomoke rivers, and in the Chincoteague coastal bays. The group will go on farm tours with other faculty members and participate in debates with local farmers. Sophomore Emily Harris said her favorite part of the semester is “the unique opportunities to interview people and visit places most people don’t get to see.”

The trips that are taken vary in destination and purpose. On Chesapeake Semester, students have travelled to a poultry litter faculty and to the world headquarters of one of the world’s largest seafood companies. This year, the group is planning to travel to Annapolis to meet with top regulators and scientists in NOAA and the Chesapeake Bay Program.

One of the most exciting aspects of the semester is the final journey to Peru to compare ecosystems across the continent. The WC team will work with students and faculty from the Center for Environmental Sustainability of the Cayetano Heredia University in the capitol city, Lima. In addition, the group will spend three days at the Tambopata National Reserve, deep within the Amazon to study the ecology and culture of the Amazon.

This final research project was Sophomore Jeffery Sullivan’s favorite part of the Semester. Sullivan, a former participant in the Chesapeake Semester, said“this gave me a wonderful opportunity to become deeply involved with a relevant issue and to present the material in a unique but professional manner.”

Another student that participated in the Chesapeake Semester, senior Kathy Thornton, said “It was a chance to embrace a new style of education and a new perspective on the Chesapeake… Above all it taught me how to learn. I learned more from constantly questioning what I saw than I ever would have if I were just reading the hard facts in a textbook. The faculty and staff and the program itself, taught us to look at our world with a constant curiosity and a new appreciation, to be proud of our opinion and know that we have the potential to make a difference.”

The Chesapeake Semester looks for rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors at WC interested in diverse subjects. Experience in upper-level courses or advance literature is not needed. And, upon completion of the semester, fulfilling the requirement for a Chesapeake Regional Studies concentration requires only one more class.

Hardesty explains that “students are charged with using all of the lecture material–ecology, biology, literature, philosophy, geology, political science, anthropology–all at once as they attempt to unfold the natural and cultural dimensions of one of the richest places in the world.”

The Elm

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