Students get real-world experience in Interim travels.
While students at many other colleges spent last month preparing for spring semester classes such as accounting, geology and anatomy, those enrolled at Buena Vista University were able to spend the month of January hiking through the Grand Canyon, sitting in the chambers of the Supreme Court and examining the intricacies of recording music onto compact discs.
Part of the university's J-Term, a three-week session where students concentrate on one topic of interest, students were able to take courses not offered during the regular fall and spring semesters at the college, such as Papermaking, War in Film: The American Experience of War and Building and Programming a Beowulf Multicomputer.
Several classes also took students to different sites around the United States, as pupils learned about sports management in Phoenix, met different business leaders in Florida and embarked on a trip exploring the cultural attractions of New York City.
One of the more adventurous classes, Surviving the Southwest, was led by professors Robert Ferguson and Greg Morris, who helped guide 19 students through a three-week backpacking expedition through six different national parks and monuments in three states, exploring backcountry many tourists to the sites do not visit.
Ferguson, who was originally scheduled to take a group of students to Europe, found himself going to the American Southwest instead after the university decided not to send BVU students and faculty to other nations after the events of Sept. 11 in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania.
Instead of viewing the Paris skyline, Ferguson, a professor of psychology, took in the sights of deserts, cliffs and caverns with his students, and said he and the class enjoyed the trip immensely.
"Every place we went to was spectacular," Ferguson said. "One of the interesting comments one of the students made was that every place was 'his new best place' every time we went somewhere new, because it just seemed to get better and better as we went along. The feedback we got from students on this was very positive, and that was exciting for us."
The students and professors began their experience on the Texas-Mexico border, hiking around Big Bend National Park, then moved west to the Guadalupe Mountains, a range on the Texas- New Mexico border with peaks rising to heights of 8,749 feet.
After exploring high mountains, the students moved underground through Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, a network of 85 caves which include Carlsbad and Lechuguilla Caves, two of the biggest in the world. The students then went to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, a mass of white dunes located near the city of Alamogordo which shift up to 20 feet per year.
Moving west, the groups visited Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the only place in the United States to view the rare organ pipe cactus, and capped off their odyssey with a trip to the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona, an experience which included three days of hiking around the bottom of the canyon and viewing the rapids of the Colorado River.
Ferguson said the experience was an eye-opening one for many of the students, who carried their own food and water in backpacks and hiked around and camped in various spots in the rugged and wild terrain.
"I think every student who went certainly did a lot of growing, because this was a new experience for most of the students," Ferguson said. "There was one student who said his only camping experience was in his own backyard, so it was a good learning experience for him and for a lot of other students who might have had similar backgrounds. It was also a chance for us to introduce them to ideas about ecology and conservation, and I think everyone learned quite a bit about those subjects from the trip."
Another class which went outside the borders of Buena Vista County was a class led by Associate Professor of Psychology Dr. Robert Blodgett to Washington, D.C., where 13 students enjoyed the sights and sounds of the nation's capital.
A 10-day-long trip, the class visited sites such as the Holocaust Museum, Ford's Theatre, the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, Arlington Cemetery and the Vietnam Memorial as part of an all-day coach tour arranged by the Department of the Interior and Congressman Tom Latham's office.
The students were also given three days to explore the city on their own, as they visited the National Cathedral, went to national headquarters for organizations such as Amnesty International, and were able to view places such as the Pentagon and White House from afar, as those sites did not permit tours due to the Sept. 11 incident.
"The students were a great bunch of students, and I think they really enjoyed it," Blodgett said. "I think the high point for many of them was sitting in the Supreme Court chambers for a couple of hours and observing the proceedings. It really was a great experience for them."
Students who stayed within the Storm Lake city limits were also given opportunities to take a variety of classes, including those who enrolled in Dr. Joe Traylor's Physics: Music & Sound course, which examined the topic of sound at an in-depth level.
In the class, students explored the nature of sound and how humans perceive it, the generation of sound by musical instruments and the electronics of sound and how it is recorded, stored and played back on CDs and cassettes.
The 20 students who took the class received general science credit for the course, which caused the composition of the class to be largely non-music majors. Traylor, who had not taught the class in 15 years, was excited to see the diverse makeup of students in the class, and was enthusiastic about the positive response to the class he received from his audience.
"There was a lot of variety in the class, and I think it took most of the kids by surprise at how in-depth the course went into everything," Traylor said. "I think by the end of the class everyone was on board and excited about the entire course as well."
The first part of the course dealt with sound waves, sound generation and how the ear and brain perceive sound through a process called psychoacoustics. The second section of the class then explored the generation of sound by musical instruments, a segment which included examining the ins and outs of a grand piano, looking at the college's organ in Schaller Chapel and having students play brass instruments in class.
The third part of the course looked at the electronics of sound, and Traylor said students were very interested in that aspect of the course, particularly with the advancement of the compact disc as one of the main forms of recorded music today.
"We were able to take a look at how the music is recorded and stored, and whether that process enhances the music or not," Traylor said. "Students were also able to handle microphones and examine how that amplifies sound and how that process works."
Traylor said he hopes the course will be offered again next interim, and thinks the J-Term courses are a good chance for students to learn about a variety of specific subjects over the three-week period.
"I think the students learned a lot from this," Traylor said, "and I think the variety of things we looked at was helpful to the students over the course of the class."