Degree Justification

I’m picky. That’s proved to be both a blessing and a curse; on one hand, I’ve had the luxury of designing my own degree, but it’s also obnoxious (I’ll admit) that I’d rather hand pick my courses than follow the path esteemed professors have laid out for me. That’s why I’m designing a degree in Outdoor Environmental Education, which is a blend of Adventure Education teaching and facilitation courses, courses in the hard sciences of Environmental Education and Biology, and a few classes with a focus in Geographic Information Systems. I created this program when I was an Environmental Science Major with a Minor in Adventure Ed; I realized that I wanted to be an environmental educator, and so a blend of the following classes is conducive to helping me reach that goal. While having only a minor in Adventure Education would allow me to take a couple classes with a focus in teaching, it would exclude me from participating in the Immersion Semester, where I’d really hone my facilitation skills in the wilderness, which is a big part of Outdoor Environmental Education. This is unlike any other PSU program because this offers an equal blend of science and experiential education, rather than having a focus in one with a few courses in the other.

When creating a degree, it’s important to have logic and a justification behind each course that’s included, in order to form a holistic education. To begin, the course I’ve selected for my QRCO was General Chemistry I (CH 2335), which I took my freshman year at the University of New England. In this course, I developed the ability to analyze quantitative material, and use quantitative techniques to solve problems in chemistry. It was a four credit class with a lab, and the majority of the course involved experimenting, collecting data, and analyzing it through the use of graphs. I chose to include this course because it provided me with the skills listed above as well as a general understanding of basic chemical concepts. As an environmental educator, I want to have a wide breadth of knowledge, and be able to answer questions about thermodynamics, chemical bonds, and material of the sort.

For my TECO, I’ve chosen Immersion Wilderness Expedition (AP 3101). This course is part of a fourScreen Shot 2016-03-05 at 10.23.35 PM.png class block in the Fall of my Junior Year, where I spend a few weeks in the wilderness. This course will teach me how to plan and prepare for wilderness trips, practice appropriate risk management, and understand technical and environmental skills. This is relevant to Outdoor Environmental Education because my classroom will likely be outdoors and I’ll need to know how to plan my lessons/trips accordingly, while implementing Leave No Trace ethics, practicing risk management, and transferring technical and environmental skills to my students.

(Above, I’m standing send from the left on a lookout on Mount Osceola, leading a trip for the SOAR Program at PSU. Hopefully, this program will allow me to lead more awesome trips like this, but with an ecological focus!)

For my WRCO, I’ve chosen Tropical Biology (BI 3210). This is a writing intensive course that prompts me to inquire about the diversity of life and the basic ecological processes of tropical ecosystems. This might seem irrelevant to teaching in the Northeast where we live in a temperate seasonal biome, but having an understanding of an ecosystem that differs greatly from our own expands upon my breadth of knowledge and can allow me to make comparisons for my students. It’s important to have an understanding of ecosystems that differ from my own because it makes me more versatile as an educator. I also someday dream of working in a tropical environment such as one in South America because I am almost fluent in Spanish, so having this background knowledge would be incredibly helpful.

Aside from the QRCO, WRCO, and TECO classes, I’ve also selected other classes to comprise my major. I’ll begin with the courses from the Adventure Education department that outline the teaching and facilitation skills I will develop. First, another course from the immersion semester is Immersion Group Management (AP 3301). As explained in the course catalog, this class “presents an in-depth coverage of the theory and applications of outdoor leadership skills and small group management.” This is essential to outdoor environmental education. The classes I will be teaching are small, and the lessons will often be taught in the field, so being able to manage groups in such a novel (but unique) setting is very important. In this class, I’ll hone my leadership styles, get a better grasp on understanding how to read group behavior and dynamics, and I will be able to react appropriately to problems that arise.

Next, is the Immersion Human Nature Relationship (AP 3201). This class encourages exploring the evolution of human’s relationship with the natural world. As an environmental educator, not only am I teaching scientific concepts, but I’m encouraging and guiding students to accept and appreciate their relationship with nature. This will heighten their fascination with the harder science concepts, and allow them to feel closer to nature, which will greatly enhance their learning.

            Lastly, is Teaching Theories and Methods (AP 2210). This class has me developing lesson plans and teaching the skills to classmates, learning physical, cognitive and affective methods of instruction, group management and learning assessment. This is a really significant course because I’m learning how to create engaging, experiential lessons, which are exactly the types of lessons I’ll be planning and implementing as an environmental educator – a field that is entirely experiential.

            Aside from the dense selection of Adventure Education courses in which I’ll be honing my skills as an educator, I also need to have the knowledge of the concepts I’ll be teaching. I may know how to make a lesson plan for teaching the Nitrogen Cycle, but if I don’t understand it fully myself, the lesson will suffer and the students won’t learn as much. For the “science” component of this degree, I will or have taken several classes in Ecology, Biology or Geographic Information Systems. Ecology is an important field to understand because it outlines relationships in nature which are important for students to recognize. Biology is significant because it dissects the concepts from ecology and demonstrates them on a cellular level. Geographic Information Systems is a complex topic, but is important to understand; it is a progressive field, and students can apply a lot of the ecological and biological concepts or interests they might learn by utilizing the technology that Geographic Information Systems can provide.

IMG_4051To begin, I have taken a Practicum in Field Ecology (ESP 2100) at the University of New England, where I trapped, tracked and collected data on Grey Squirrels around campus. I learned how to handle wildlife, dissect scientific journals, and analyze data that I collected manually. These are important, practical skills that will be essential should I assign any field reports or data collection and analysis for students. I’ll be able to explain them fully, since I had such an immersive experience myself.

(Above is a picture of one of the many squirrels we tracked and trapped).

I’ve also taken Intro to Geological Sciences (ESP 2150). This class prompted my investigation of earth’s geosystems, where I identified minerals, keyed out different rocks types and fossils, and used basic geological instruments for measuring. Having a basic understanding of how the Earth formed is essential. I will be able to recognize the pattern of Earth’s geological processes when I’m teaching in a certain area, and I can convey this to students so that they can recognize examples on their own.

Next, I’m currently taking Natural History and Ecology for Adventure Educators (AP 2500). While this is technically an Adventure Education course, it focuses on ecological concepts, rather than any educational skills. In this class, I’ve developed species identification skills, and I’ve enhanced my flora and fauna classification experience. It’s provided me with a foundation of environmental literacy, which is something that is emphasized heavily in environmental education. I want my students to be able to classify species, identify them by asking questions and using field guides, and essentially develop the ability to “read” the environment on their own. This class is helping me learn just that, which I’ll be able to convey to my students easily.

I also plan on taking an upper level biology course called Conservation (BI 3240). This course examines the interdependence of all species on Earth, global economics, consumption patterns, and cultural diversity. Not only will I be learning some of the nitty gritty biological details, but I’ll be developing an understanding of how economics and culture affect the preservation of land and species.  Being an environmental educator means having an understanding of the physical environment, but it also means emphasizing in a subtle way the current environmental issues (such as barriers that suppress conservation). I should not only understand a species role at an ecological or biological level, but the role it plays in a global context, and what steps humans are taking to alter that role for the better.

Another science course that will add to my environmental literacy will be Current Environmental Issues (BI 4800). This class is discussion based, and prompts students like myself to consider the world’s most pressing issues and what steps we can take to mitigate the risk of complete destruction. I can teach my students about these issues, and challenge them to think of ideas about how to help their community, if even on a local scale. It’s this type of urgency that surrounds the environmental issues that is important to instill in students, and this class will give me the tools to do so.

Lastly are the Geographic Information Systems courses, or GIS courses for short. The first one is Introduction to GIS (GE 3370). I will learn about the design and implementation of GIS software as well as gain some experience operating the equipment and applying it to real-world problems. As aforementioned, GIS is a complex skill that, at first glance, doesn’t seem to fit well with the young population of students who are typically taught by environmental educators. However, it’s likely that I’ll be using GPS’s at many points, and in order to better explain the technology behind the equipment, I should have an in-depth understanding of the software it takes to design and create the maps in GPS’s. Also, this field is ever progressing and is one of the most important tools used in environmental science. Not only will these skills help me produce materials for students, but I will be able to help develop their own.

            Two classes that build off of Intro to GIS are Advanced GIS (GE 4270), and Introduction to Air Photo Interpretation and Remote Sensing (GE 3350). Advanced GIS emphasizes the organizational and legal context of GIS use, professional issues and communication between different GIS software and project implementation and management. As I mentioned, I want to have an in-depth knowledge of this material. Also, before I start teaching, I have a desire to do some ecological research so that I am versatile and well rounded as an educator, and I’d like to use this equipment to do such research. This course will help me develop the skills needed and the familiarity with the GIS software I’ll need to carry out the work I want to do before I become an educator.

Introduction to Air Photo Interpretation and Remote Sensing (GE 3350) is a more specialized GIS course, and involved the interpretation of aerial photographs, satellite images, and other remotely sensed data. This unique skill would be helpful in assisting me in complex research before I start teaching. I could use these skills to monitor Wildebeest migration in Africa, assist in environmental land planning, or anything in between. That way, when I start teaching, I’ll have a breadth of experience to draw from, and could even teach these skills to my students. For example, if we’re out on a trip, we could perform an ecological assessment to identify which areas are most ecologically valuable.

There are two “other” courses that I think will be helpful for my degree. The first is a special topic in Hospitality and Tourism Management called Ecotourism (TMP 3000). This well help me market myself as an environmental educator, and should I decide to take my teaching on the road or develop a unique program, I’ll have a foundation for doing so. Some day, I’d like to teach in a remote location, or possibly become a guide at a national park that gives tours about the ecology and natural history of the location. This class is a great match for those interests.

Lastly, I would like to do an Independent Study (4910). I would do this with Christian Bisson, an esteemed professor who has extensive experience in environmental education. We would develop a plan of study where I would read and analyze popular theories and philosophies of environmental education, and I would create my own teaching philosophy. Having my own philosophy is important because it keeps me grounded and rooted to my morals and what I believe is most important as an educator.

My program is interdisciplinary because it blends three diverse fields into one, practical degree. It calls upon the use of multiple intelligences, an essential component of interdisciplinarity. I’ve involved courses that invite the use of logic, such as the GIS upper level classes, and I’ve also included more creative classes such as Teaching Theories and Methods. This will propel me towards a future in environmental education because I’ll have developed a strong foundation in experiential education teaching strategies and philosophies, and I’ll have a solid understanding of the scientific concepts I’ll be talking about to my students. The GIS classes are supplemental, and will help me land jobs in research after college, while I hone my “conceptual” knowledge first before I try and convey the information I’ve learned to young students. I think it’s important to have experience outside of teaching so that I can bring more to the table as an educator. I think I’ve designed a degree that’ll do just that.

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Specialization’s Folly

We’d be in trouble without specialists. We’d have less faith in medicine, less complexity in music, and the Cronut probably never would have been invented. (Scary, I know!!) Yet, specialization runs the risk of being too, er, special. This discipline often fails to “consider other perspective,” (Repko 79). Repko gives the example of psychologists studying terrorism. He argues, “when cognitive psychology studies a complex behavior such as terrorism, it studies only the mental life of individual terrorists,” (79). How can any conclusions be made for the terrorists’ motives if only their brain is studied? Isn’t it
possible that there were religious pressures, or other external factors? This way of thinking doesn’t take into account those other possibilities.
IMG_6076In the field of Outdoor Environmental Education towards which I’m moving, it’s important not to develop tunnel vision. It’s easy to develop a bias about environmental issues and only focus on the political or financial implications that accompany these issues. However, I can’t import this bias into the lesson. They need to be able to see all sides of the issue and formulate their own opinion. It’s important that I consider all pieces of the puzzle before conveying this information to anyone.
Inter disciplinarians make up the frame and foundations of buildings, while specialists are he windows and doors. There’s opportunity for the windows and doors to be opened once in a while, but not all the time. The content between the disciplines is arguably what holds it all together.


This is a photo of a goat I took in Torcello, Italy. I’m feeding him grass here, but if grass is all he’s fed, grass is all he knows. Likewise, if one discipline is all you learn, it’s all you know.

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Works Cited:

Repko, Allen. 2014. Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies. Sage Publications, L.A. Print.

Success at the Crossroads of Climate Change and Campaigning

The Climate Reality Project was founded by Al Gore in 2006 shortly after the premiere of the film “An Inconvenient Truth” stirred minds a plenty (Climate Reality). It’s a nonprofit organization working towards catalyzing a “global solution to the climate crisis by making urgent action a necessity across every level of society,” (Climate Reality). Essentially, by spreading the word about the severity of climate change and its looming effects, we can make a difference in policy by persuading leaders to take action.

I’m an intern for the organization, and I’ve noticed that I’ve had to perform many tasks that fall under a variety of disciplines, all of which “transcend by means of integration,” (Repko 32). Behind my small amount of work lies my boss, Vasiliy, whose “love of learning,” (an important trait as suggested by Repko), fuels his motivation for this cause. He, like all members of this organization, is a “cultural leader, marketer, organizer, scientist, [and] storyteller,” (Climate Reality). And he wears all these hats at ones. His work isn’t multidisciplinary, but inter, and he blends these roles cleanly. He lobbies, phonebanks, updates me on news in science, organizes events, and presents the impending doom of climate change in a way that’s creative and appealing.

This organization has experienced monumental success at the last UN Climate Summit in Paris, as well as at hundreds of college campuses around the nation. People are finally starting to listen, since their campaign appeals in so many ways to so many people.

You can learn more about this company’s mission here.

My goal with interdisciplinary studies is to be an Outdoor Environmental Educator. This requires knowing a great deal about Earth and its Ecology, and also being able to persuade kids through their appreciation of the land to take action to protect it. Learning from Vasiliy at the Climate Reality Project has been so helpful with this. Every time he shares news, he uses dramatic and engaging techniques that aren’t preach-y, and they make me want to take a stand on my own. Knowing how to storytell, market issues and stay factual scientifically surely demands the use of interdisciplinary knowledge, and I’m happy to have learned from one of the best success stories out there!

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Here’s Al Gore and a bunch of Climate Reality Staff smiling about their contributions to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions!



Works Cited:

Repko, Allen. 2014. Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies. Sage Publications, L.A. Print.

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Do What You Love, Love What You Do

If a song you hate comes on the radio, are you going to sing it loud and proud? Odds are, you won’t. Unless you’re trying to annoy the driver; in which case, come on man.

A trait that probably comes naturally to most inter-disciplinarians is a natural love of learning. These are people who aren’t satisfied with one field; they crave more knowledge. They are “intensely interested in the world,” (Repko 55). They are not “prisoners of bias,” seeking depth and even ideas that counter their own. Without this fervor, people couldn’t blend disciplines with as much ease. The natural interest people contain fuels the passion and amalgamation of fields. Outdoor educators couldn’t do their students any justice if they just kind of liked ecology and sort of liked experiential education. They need to be able to demonstrate their enthusiasm sans effort!

I may not be entirely sure about what I want to do with my career, but I do know that I’m very passionate about the disciplines I’m combining. I love learning about teaching, and I love nature, and being able to combine the two would be a real treasure.


Here’s a photo I took of Arethusa Falls. The water spilling over the rocks demonstrates the blending of water into one stream that falls passionately over the jagged rocks. This seamless blending of natural elements is symbolic of the love and enthusiasm people have when blending disciplines.

Works Cited:

Repko, Allen. 2014. Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies. Sage Publications, L.A. Print.

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Laura Tilghman: Professor, Mother, and Interdisciplinary Extraordinaire

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Here’s a portrait of Laura that her friends in Madagascar so graciously created for her.

Meet Laura

 Laura Tilghman is a new mother. She’s also a world traveler, an educator, and an anthropologist with a sense of curiosity that’s a mile wide. Nowadays, you can find this talented woman extending her wisdom at Plymouth State University by teaching two courses: Cultural Anthropology and the Anthropology of Migration.

What sets Dr. Tilghman apart from the typical academic is her immersive research and dedication to her field. She spent two years doing anthropological research in Madagascar, and five or so more years writing about her observations of the local people. This research was part of her University of Georgia doctorate program, one of few in the country that strongly integrated environmental issues into the anthropological curriculum.

 Her Connections Outside Her Field

 Given Dr. Tilghman’s impressive experience studying, communicating with, and working alongside many different types of people, it’s no wonder that working with scholars outside of her field comes easily. (At least that’s what I observed; she’s too humble to admit that herself). She mentioned that her main research interests include working with the Veterans Administration in the Health Sector. To do this research, she associates with sociologists and systems engineers, two occupations that aren’t exactly tangent to her own. Dr. Tilghman admits that it can be difficult to work with people who aren’t used to anthropology, especially because many of these scientists value quantitative data over her more qualitative results. Hence, the work becomes very interdisciplinary as Dr. Tilghman and her colleagues are forced to recognize the importance of both types of data and the individual values of each.

I also asked what it was like working with non academics in her professional life. “Oh jeez,” she laughed, and went on to tell me that she this wasn’t her forte. However, she supersedes any object of uncertainty by taking time to make sure her communication with non academics is very clear. She explained that sometimes she has to write reports for the government, who are typically unfamiliar with the detail and depth of her studies, so she has to write it in a way that’s simultaneously sophisticated and simple.

Her Role as an Educator

 We commiserated over the lack of excitement in those types of tasks and I moved on to something that she finds a lot more fascinating: her teaching. I took her Cultural Anthropology class in the Fall, and the lessons ranged from Gender and Race studies, to the Environment, to Linguistics and Language. There’s an incredible amount of crossover from other disciplines into anthropology, and she laced them together seamlessly. Understanding culture completely requires a foundation of knowledge that crests beyond simply understanding people. We learned about the wilderness and witchcraft, gift exchange and economics. Her understanding of a range of topics spreads far and wide.

In addition to the interdisciplinary topics she teaches about in Cultural Anthropology, she also mentioned that there’s an interesting mix of students in her Migration class. She has Anthropology Majors, Business Majors, Tourism Majors, you name it. Dr. Tilghman mentioned that in teaching, you often have to translate your discipline for other majors, and with a mix like that, she sure keeps busy in the classroom!

Interdisciplinary Advice

 Lastly, I asked her about what courses students who major in Anthropology should take from outside that department. Dr. Tilghman answered that it depends on interests: those interested in environmental issues (like herself), should take some environmental classes. Those interested in Archaeology should take lots of history and philosophy courses. Those looking to pursue Physical Biological Anthropology should take lots of anatomy and health classes. She did stress, however, the importance for all students to take other social science classes like sociology and psychology.

Lately, Dr. Tilghman’s been most interested in the topic of international migration from Madagascar. She wants to know about the immigrant communities and where they are choosing to move to. Traditionally, these people move to France since Madagascar used to be a French colony, but now they’re thinking about China, Canada or even the U.S. She’s fascinated by how they adapt to these new places, their challenges, and how they maintain connections back home. Unsurprisingly, this research prompts her to draw upon knowledge of social patterns, economics, and even health: an interdisciplinary mix in the least.

I ended the interview by snapping a picture of the portrait she had hanging on her wall – one that her friends in Madagascar made of her. The resemblance is quite uncanny. I left, not only impressed by the depth of her research and interests, but by the breadth of knowledge she’s been able to acquire that stretches across so many disciplines. She truly is a model for us in this field.

The Metaphor of Boundary Crossing

Would you walk into a neighbor’s house without knocking? Would you cross the border to Mexico without a basic understanding of Mexican culture?

I hope, for your sake and safety that your answers to both those questions were “no.”

The reason why, is because crossing boundaries can get you into trouble. For example, the “issue of human cloning” requires “crossing the boundaries between biology, religion, ethics and law,” (Repko, 41). This gets tricky, especially when several of those disciplines are particularly controversial.

In my field, however, I’m not too concerned. I want my students to cross boundaries full speed ahead. If we’re outdoors, and we notice some cool rock features, you better believe I’ll be encouraging them to inquire about geology and geomorphology. If we cross a river, I want them to think about the chemistry of the nutrients in the water. A lot of the disciplines that I’ll encounter in my field aren’t controversial, and therefore I encourage border crossing.

That being said, it’s important to cross correctly, educating my students with a sound knowledge each time they dive over to a new discipline. The “‘traveler must learn the language of the ‘country,'” (Repko, 42). The students must at least leave with a foundational understanding of what they’re inquiring about.IMG_5577

Here’s a photo I took on top of mount Carrigan. Students who see this might be tempted to cross the boundaries into areas such as zoology (investigating the dog’s behavior), hydrology (to learn what’s going on with the water the dog is drinking), sociology (why did I take the picture?), and even geology (what can we learn about the formation of mountains in the background).


Works Cited:

Repko, Allen. 2014. Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies. Sage Publications, L.A. Print.

Successful Intelligence and What it Means in the Backcountry

You’re way smarter than you think you are.

You don’t only possess one intelligence, but many. In fact, every human (including you) possesses multiple intelligences, and can activate and utilize them on demand. Neat, huh?   Robert J. Sternberg, a renown leader in intelligence research, assuages that there are three types of intelligence that, when used together, create a “successful intelligence,” (Repko 16). A creative intelligence calls on our ability to make connections and ideas. An analytical  intelligence isolates different sections of a problem, evaluating “the quality of ideas,” (16). And a practical  intelligence, applies an idea in “an effective way,” (16).

Individually, these intelligences are useful. Together, they are dynamite. I think this concept is especially important in the field I’m going into. I’m pursuing an interdisciplinary degree that combines Adventure Education and Environmental Science, and if I’m to spend my career outdoors, I need my brain to be active in a multitude of fashions. I need to think creatively, not only to engage students, but sometimes to get out of jams (like a giant, unpredictable thunderstorm). I need to think analytically, breaking down problems into smaller pieces, so that if a student comes across a challenge and fails, we can isolate different aspects of their struggles to work on. Lastly, I need to think practically. I need to teach lessons in the outdoors that are transferrable for students. They need to be able to take what they learned in the backcountry and apply it into their own life, whether it’s learning the value of nature and starting a compost bin at their home, or even developing better interpersonal skills to practice with their siblings.

These three types of intelligences will be incredibly useful for the career I’m pursuing. Combining the three will activate my brain and deliver meaningful messages to my students, leaving them with the ability to think in ways that are valuable and threefold.

Works Cited

Repko, Allen. 2014. Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies. Sage Publications, L.A. Print. 12651043_1227707683910593_72243215449360396_n

Here’s a photo I took on Mount Willey of the Webster Cliffs in Crawford Notch. Working in an outdoor setting as gnarly (and beautiful) as this one, I need to be able to think creatively, analytically, and practically in order to provide students with the best learning experience possible!