Early Insights From the Land Down Under

Mom, if you’re reading this, the part about hitch hiking is totally made up, don’t worry!

(Yeah not really)

I’m standing in the salty breeze next to my bike on the Harbourside Path, and I’d be jumping for joy if my legs didn’t feel like they were on fire. Actually, on second thought, while the breeze would be salty if there were any, I realize that the taste of sodium in my mouth comes from the waterfall of sweat cascading down my face. I probably look like such a catch, I muse to myself. Yet my gargoyle-esque appearance is no weight on my shoulders, as I revel in the fact that after 6 hours of adventurous travel, I made it back to where I started early that morning.

Then I stop. How the HELL did I get back here?

After a bike ride, miles on my feet, a ride from some lovely ladies, some more miles on my feet, an impromptu bus ride ,more miles on my feet, even more miles on my feet, more-er miles on my feet, the kindness of three Scots driving me down the other side of a mountain, alas, MORE miles on my feet, and a ride from a nice man with a vape pen (no judgment), I made it back to the start. What I thought was going to be a small hike up a mountain, turned into be a 6 hour ordeal with the VERY little scroggin (trail mix) that I packed. *Here’s where you say: good plannin’ Katie B!*

So, as I rode back the short few miles back to my flat, I thought not about how tired I was, or how ridiculous I looked in my dollar store-wrap-around-wannabe-Lance-glasses, I thought about how journeys like that make you feel at the end. That got me thinking about how useful challenge can be for folks who are struggling, and THAT got me thinking about my career in wilderness therapy.
For those unfamiliar, wilderness/adventure therapy is an “active, experiential approach to group(and family) psychotherapy or counseling: – Utilizing an activity base, (cooperative group games, ropes courses, outdoor pursuits or wilderness expeditions) – employing real and or perceived (physical and psychological) risk” (Bradwoods.org). It’s an incredibly effective supplement to traditional, normative counseling.

My degree in Outdoor Environmental Education sets me up well for a job in this field, but it’s something that I hadn’t really considered until I arrived in New Zealand. Moving into a city, I began to realize how therapeutic nature was for me, and it brought me to a new understanding about how powerful the outdoors and challenge within them could really be.

Until this point, I was unsure about where I’d be heading after graduating in the Fall. Now that I had a good lead, I began to do some more independent research to ensure that this was really what I wanted to do.


Mt McIntosh Loop, Glenorchy, NZ

I interviewed Scott Blair of Adventure Development, and learned about the high percentage of incarcerated men that were there due to alcohol related offenses. I quizzed Jeremy Bundett, a Dunedin probation officer, about his work with people who were struggling to stay out of jail and prison. I visited Alcoholics Anonymous classes in order to understand more about the diseases of alcoholism and addiction. I loved this continuous knowledge of people who were willing to share it; the more I learned, I more I formulated a plan and a vision.

I’m still going to continue my research while I’m down here, and of course when I return home as well. At the moment, though, I can happily say I have a good idea of where I want my life to go. I’d like to pursue a job in wilderness therapy after graduating, hopefully working with young people with substance abuse and mental health issues. I’d like for that to lead me towards a Master’s Degree in Educational Counseling or something of the sort. Then, I’d like to pursue a PhD, and go on to teach university courses at a prison, so that we are rehabilitating people who have offended, rather than just punishing them.

I’m looking forward to continuing my studies in the hopes of making these dreams a reality.

Works Cited



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Teaching is Learning

Tomorrow, I dive into week three of my summer camp job. I’m a trip leader, and a camping instructor; I teach about knots, shelter making, stoves, leave no trace, cooking in the backcountry, wilderness first aid, and so on, and so on.

I came into the summer stoked on the idea of making lesson plans and carrying them out, as I had just finished a course in “Teaching Theories and Methods.” I was a teacher, after all. I was the authority, the adult full of knowledge.

However, I was humbled after day one. My teaching to learning ratio was largely off, and the scale tipped in favor of the latter. I struggled with this idea for several days, because I thought I was supposed to be the one imposing most of the information on the students, nFoto 7-7-16 07 38 50.jpgot the other way around. I spent so much time anxious and frustrated about the imbalance that I forgot to realize how beautiful the exchange was.

I soon began to welcome this trade. I started to understand that I couldn’t teach to my fullest if I wasn’t constantly learning – about my students, the topics I was teaching about, the landscape, and much more. Teaching needs to be a consistent dialogue, as opposed to a lecture.

As teachers, our students have so much to teach us, and we have a lot to learn beyond the material we cover in our lessons.

The photo above is one I took during a trip through the Carter Range in NH.

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A Critique of the Modern Education System

What is art? An expressive fulfillment of an artist’s right mind quota? A release of creative energy? It simply must be more. Art, without a viewer, without a venue, is wasted. With no one to interpret the value to their own life, or to even critique the use of color patterns and hues, art is breathless, and has no bearing in our world.

This critical analysis of viewer on art has relevance to education, yet. Our communities would not function if it weren’t for the passion of the artist, the critique of the viewer, and perhaps the morals of both. Schools must, and could mold students into these roles, however, our education system currently lacks. The future of education could create citizens who have the qualities of critical thinking, passion and morality, three traits of an exception human. Wouldn’t you want exceptional humans running the planet?

If I could design an educational system for universities to adopt, it would revolve around those three characteristics, much like the philosophy of Sugata Mitra, a speaker from the mini-documentary “Future Learning,” which revolves around producing students who excel in reading comprehension, information retrieval and belief. My college program would be interdisciplinary, would implement the use of technology, and would place emphasis on the human side of education, rather than lackluster content and information.

To inspire passion in college students, my program would, as David Siffrec puts it, “blur the line between learning and play.” Children who play video games often learn quickly and efficiently the skills needed to explore, create, and problem solve. My university would run similarly. There would be many programs where students can explore their interests; they could create their own degree, take classes that fascinate them, talk monthly with students like them, about topics that interest them. I would want to see heated debates, lots of laughing, and inspired work outside the classroom. Of course, the coursework would be relevant to a career, but in order to remain focused and motivated, students should enjoy the work they’re doing.

For students to think critically, the program would be very interdisciplinary. IDS involves systems thinking and the theory of complexity, which helps students look at large and multifaceted problems in order to break them down. In this university, students would be faced with real life issues or projects that have many layers, and many stakeholders. They would break away from doctrine. This would require them to think critically about prioritization, what needs to be done and what doesn’t, and how to solve the problem as a whole. That way, when students leave, they’re prepared for anything life throws their way.

Lastly, something that many universities lack is a program or curriculum that emphasizes being a good person. It’s a humble idea, but it holds so much value. I oft wonder why we are at war, why we argue, why we steal, why we lie to our brothers and sisters. I wonder if this is due to our education as a child. We were told to be kind and genuine, and essentially we had the right to choose whether or not we wanted to conform to that. Once people grow up, if they don’t see a personal need to be that way, they won’t. A program that emphasizes an ethical consciousness, one of many values of IDS, might change the way students behave. It might even just be on a small scale, where students start to hold doors for one another, or they start complimenting strangers. Or, it could progress and happen on a large scale, and it could create a kind and thoughtful community of people looking out for one another. In order for this to work, the philosophical issues that are brought forth to students need to be relevant to their life. They need to care about them in order to act upon them. Professors should pose difficult ethical questions to students on tests, rather than ones that are information based. The content should address issues far beyond the molecular physiology of cells or the proper use a semi colon. Classes and lectures should make students think far beyond the hour they sit in class.

Technology, as mentioned in the film, is a huge part of today’s educational system. It’s a hot, debated topic that poses many a question. Should we reject technology completely, in the fear that it is destroying our interpersonal skills? Should we merely limit it? Should we embrace it fully? I think technology should supplement the educational system. I noticed in the film that doctors were using an iPad to reference during a mock surgery. Sure, it’s convenient, but how does that help the students transfer skills to real life? They can’t reference their notes in real time, when there’s an imminent procedure on their hands. Technology makes folks dependent on quick information retrieval. We need people to learn experientially, with lots of practice. It’s a great pedagogical tool, and it keeps people with the times, but as Seth Weinberger insists, technology should be used for “lower order” teaching.

Imagine a world of critical, passionate and moral people. Perhaps there’d be less war, and less corruption. Or maybe people would simply be kinder. I think that our current education system does a great job with information assimilation, but in order to instill the traits listed above, our education system needs to be more experiential; after all, that’s what life is. When we face problems, we don’t have notes to reference, or word problems to break down. Education should inspire students to be good people who question ideas and fervently tackle life’s tasks. Everything is abstract, like art, and with a collection of experiences, we can face challenges bravely.

Works Cited:

GOODMagazine. “Future Learning | Mini Documentary | GOOD.” YouTube. YouTube, 30 May 2012. Web. 13 May 2016.

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My Journey Through IDS: A Progression of Interest and Intellect

I’m sitting down at the dinner table with my family during Winter Break, and my mom asks,

“Hey daughter o’ mine, what are you studying these days?”

“Well, I’ve actually changed my major again,” I replied.

“There’s a shocker. To what?”

“Interdisciplinary Studies.”

“What’s that all about?”

“It’s uhh, little bit of this, little bit of that… y’know.”

“So you have no idea?”


    That was about my understanding of interdisciplinary studies. Before entering in this course, I thought interdisciplinary studies meant studying a ‘little bit of this, a little bit of that,’ in order to get a more well rounded, and possibly less tunnel focused education. Boy, has that changed.

A faculty member suggested this degree to me, as I expressed my passions for environmental science and adventure education, so I figured, what the heck, I’ll give it a go. I thought it was a degree for those who were a little unsure about what they wanted to do. I thought it was for folks who had too many interests, and a hard time focusing on just one. I was quickly humbled on the first day when I was told the opposite: that this in fact was a course and a degree for those who had super future seeing powers, and knew what they wanted to be, but PSU couldn’t match their needs. Oh man.

After a lot of advisor meetings, and a healthy amount of soul searching, I isolated my most fervent interests, and decided on a career path: Environmental Education. From there, I dove into the IDS course in order to broaden my lack of understanding on the topic. By reading and responding to Repko and various scholarly articles, my understanding evolved. I learned about complexity, ideas of common ground, different types of educational communities, and how the disciplines fit within.  I’d now define interdisciplinarity as a progressive blend of related fields that allow people to wear multiple hats and transfer ideas across disciplines in order to address complex issues. Instead of the “fruit bowl” idea that I came in thinking this was all about, I’ve since realized that this field is a blend, rather than a mix. It engages the best parts of each field, allows each to be highlighted and revered, and gives academics a common language in which to speak and solve problems with.

As I mentioned, I’ve been highly influenced by the texts that we’ve examined in class. One of the theories that I’ve incorporated into my program is complexity. In outdoor environmental education, we’ll be talking about global issues such as climate change and ocean acidification, and those are big, complex ideas. In order to inspire kids to tackle these issues, we need to isolate the moving parts of the issues, find connections, and think about all the different fields and stakeholders that play a role. Understanding this idea of complexity helped me choose classes that will give me different perspectives that I can use when tackling large and multifaceted issues with kids.

Another principle that I believe strongly in is the idea that specialization can lead to tunnel vision and can hinder creative breakthroughs. There’s nothing wrong with becoming an expert in something; in fact I applaud those with ph.D’s in obscure fields. However, I think it can be difficult to relate to those in other fields and solve problems with them if you are only versed in one thing. People can get sucked into what they already know well and be averse to opening their mind to new ideas. With that in mind, I made sure I incorporated fields that were different enough that gave me broad perspectives, but similar enough that I can transfer ideas within each field and develop a loose, but significant specialization that won’t give me tunnel vision.

Not only is interdisciplinarity important in my own life, but it’s also imperative to universities and on a greater scale as well.  If you think about it, besides profit, what do universities want to achieve? They want to produce well rounded, marketable, employable students. What better way to do that than by giving them an interdisciplinary degree? They can master any interview, appeal to countless jobs, all because of their breadth and depth of experience. On a global, social scale, this means that society is gaining competent, tolerant and experienced members. People who study interdisciplinary studies are more likely to accept and entertain ideas from folks from other disciplines, find common ground among their colleagues, and problem solve efficiently.

When I leave PSU, I want to make big changes. Like most teachers, I want to inspire students to make a positive impact. I want them to be captivated by learning, and take it upon themselves to learn independently of school as well. I want my students to be the ones asking the hard questions, staying up late with friends to have philosophical conversations, and I want them to feel fulfilled. Of course, I want the same thing for myself, too. I want a meaningful job, I want my work to be dynamic and creative, and I hope I can learn a lot as I go. I hope I’m constantly improving my craft, constantly applying new theories and tricks. I hope I can stay fascinated.IMG_6617.JPG

I hope the same things for the future of IDS as well. I have a (rather educated) hunch that IDS is going to explode, and soon. At PSU, it seems to be catching fire, especially within the new cluster system. I think it’s extremely progressive, so a lot of students are going to catch on; students shouldn’t settle for things that they’re not passionate about. I see so many of my friends bumming out about a major that isn’t right for them, and they feel like it’s too late to do anything. I don’t want students to feel like they’re wasting their money for an education that someone else picked out for them. Education should be extremely democratic and that students should get to choose what they study. I think their interests should be constantly engaged, and IDS does just that for students here. Being able to design your field of study seems like it’s what college should be, and with PSU’s program as a standout example, I hope a lot of schools follow suit.


Photo above: This is an action shot of a press conference I held with my co-president Victoria Santry (to the left of me), to advocate for 100% renewable energy on campus by 2030. This is the kind of change I want to be making. Real, tangible change. Beside me are a social scientist, an ecologist, and a renewable energy technician. Working with them, I truly felt like an inter disciplinarian, because I was helping to amalgamate and communicate the ideas of three completely different professionals into one in order to solve a complex issue.

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A Larger Whole: Complex Systems in IDS

Think about the materials you used in school as a child. Pencils, paper, picture books – these are all simple items. Now, think about how the materials given to you changed over time; paper became a laptop computer, pencils became keyboards, picture books; novels. You went from studying “History,” to “20th Century Wars,” from “Math,” to “Applied Calculus.” What happened? Your knowledge expanded, and your tools increased in complexity.


This is a key concept of Interdisciplinary Studies, as explained by William Newell, author of  “A Theory of Interdisciplinary Studies.” He outlines a theory that is already engrained in our core as academics. We’ve studied multiple disciplines, used intricate tools, and at one point or another, blended ideas and concepts across fields.

However, the “blended” approach is not always our go-to solution when we’re faced with problems. We tend to “study the individual facets or sub-systems,” rather than “developing specific, whole, complex systems to study such phenomena,” (1). In other words, we have trouble with the cohesion of the facets we study.

A complex system, as suggested by Newell, can be likened to a map with multiple GIS layers, sub-systems, components and non-linear connections. It is, in short, complex. It’s how we recognize these connections, and how we understand the links between our work in this system, that matters in solving problems.
Take climate change, for example. That’s a problem and a half. There are billions of stakeholders, some concerned with budgets and spending, some concerned with the natural world, some concerned with the wind turbines that are going to block their backyard ocean view. This is a complex system. And there’s no simple solution. There’s this “distinctive self-organizing, overall pattern or set of patterns of behavior that gives the system its identity,” and to csm_melting-ice-polar-bear-on-2063111_16391916d7isolate this/these, and then integrate, is no easy task (7).

Yet, with a problem such as climate change, it’s imperative to look at the sub-systems like economics, natural capital, and human happiness in order to find a solution. Each system has to be considered and then integrated with the others.

Newell closes by assuring that if “complex systems theory indeed permits us to visualize each step in the integrative process and to determine how well we integrated, it will have amply demonstrated its usefulness for inter disciplinarians,” (22).

Now we march forth in our expansion of knowledge and tool building. We will progress in our methods, welcome the integration of ideas and disciplines into our problem solving, and become fruitfully aware of the efficacy of such an approach.

Works cited:

Newell, William. “The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies.” (n.d.): n. pag. Miami University. Web.


Climate change responses are up to us

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Establishing Common Ground

Has someone more knowledgable than you ever started a conversation about something that you had no idea how to respond to? Probably not, because you’re all super smaht, but this has happened to me plenty of times.

When looking at instances like that, I could react in one of two ways: I could get frustrated and down on myself for not understanding what in the world this person is talking about; or I could try and ameliorate the situation by establishing some common ground.

I’ll back ucommon-ground-300x294.jpgp, ask them to define terms that I’m unclear about, give me context, and then we can move forward. This tactic, as suggested by Repko, is “implicit in the concept of integration” in interdisciplinary studies (129). It’s what allows humans to have productive conversations with one another, and it’s what allows the integration of disciplines.

For example, take the two disciplines of natural sciences and education, both of which are integral parts of my degree. Each have their own “truths,” or norms, realities and centralized dogmas. In order to blend these, I need to be able to understand both disciplines’ truths, and they need to be recognized by one another in a sense in order to integrate well. Common ground is a foundation for more complex ideas to stand on. With no basis, nothing can grow, which is why it’s so important to build a strong platform for these disciplines to stand on and interact.


Photo Source: http://professionallyspeaking.net/finding-common-ground-with-your-audience/

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Uniformitarianism in Earth Sciences

What’s in a uniform? Other than, typically, pants, uniforms consist of invariability. They’re designed to make people look similar to one another. They’re unchanging and static, and aside from small changes in the details of uniforms such as the additions of buttons or collars, uniforms have been unchanging for a long time.

In science, specifically geology, there exists a sense of uniformitarianism, similar to that of clothing. Repko has identified this in his epistemological dissection of the disciplines (106). In geology, it’s theorized that the geological processes that exist today have been acting the same way since the beginning of time. Neat stuff.

So, how is this at all relevant to interdisciplinary studies? Well, uniformitarianism is a very specific concept that’s entirely relevant to Earth Sciences, and not so transferrable to other disciplines such as English or Mathematics. Upon reading this from Repko, I was a little discouraged at the lack of translatability of this concept to other disciplines. Of course I understand that geological uniformitarianism is a very small and specific concept in the sciences, but I was left with a hollow feeling that combining disciplines (what I’m doing for my degree) would leave me struggling to blend them.

IMG_6433After this confusion, I stepped back for a second and realized what Repko was doing; he was demonstrating the concept of epistemology. He was explaining and exemplifying what differs from field to field. As an interdisciplinarian, a part of me wants to deny that the disciplines I’m combining differ that strongly from field to field, because it makes my justification a little weaker for combining them. However, its these differences that should be highlighted. I shouldn’t be worried about trying to seamlessly blend these disciplines because its the unique components of each that will make my degree strong.

(The above photo is of a mesa of sandstone in Arizona – a rock structure whose geological processes are identical to those from thousands of years ago).

So, I can celebrate uniformitarianism as its own, unique concept. There’s no need to find a way to translate that exactly or relate it perfectly to other disciplines. Repko helped me understand ways to isolate these unique concepts in each discipline, allowing me to revel in their differences.


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