University of Montana alumni with a passion for experiential education have created a variety of organizations serving students’ profound desire to get their hands dirty and work, play and learn outdoors.
Their programs complement traditional academic classroom learning with outdoor experience. Six distinct programs, all based in Missoula and primarily founded by alumni of UM’s Environmental Studies Program, allow students to engage in life-changing, hands-on field opportunities.
“Environmental Studies is exceptionally proud of our graduates,” said Len Broberg, director of UM’s program. “Alumni of the Environmental Studies program at UM have not only found careers for themselves and started businesses that create jobs in the community, but also have created outstanding learning opportunities for others in the process.”
Nationally, Missoula is a hub for experiential outdoor education. Not only is the town uniquely situated amidst diverse natural landscapes, but also the University has spawned creative thinkers bent on improving the effectiveness of education about topics ranging from watersheds to wilderness medicine. The School of Extended & Lifelong Learning (SELL) at UM partners with several of these programs to offer undergraduate credit.
For example, Northwest Connections offers Landscape & Livelihood, a field program that integrates natural history, conservation and community while studying the landscape of the Swan Valley. Melanie Parker (UM ’99) and Andrea Stephens (UM ’92) co-created this program 15 years ago and recently launched a new spring program called Wildlife in the West. In addition to teaching field courses, Northwest Connections works in the conservation policy arena, as well as conducting seasonal field work on forest carnivores, grizzlies, westslope cutthroat trout and more.
In addition to wilderness medicine courses, Aerie Backcountry Medicine developed the unique Semester in Wilderness Medicine, which takes place partly in Costa Rica, where students study travel medicine and swiftwater rescue, and partly in Montana’s Blackfoot Valley, where students train for avalanche rescue and complete their emergency medical technician certification. Dave McEvoy (UM ’98) co-founded Aerie while finishing his master’s degree in biology and working as a paramedic.
Wild Rockies Field Institute teaches college programs in Alaska, Yellowstone and across Montana, including the popular Cycle the Rockies course, during which students study climate and energy issues while biking across Montana. Three UM alumni – Matt Thomas (UM ’91), Dave Havlick (UM ’91) and Tim Bechtold (UM ’91) – founded WRFI, and many alumni instruct for the nonprofit.
Ecology Project International, co-founded by Scott Pankratz (UM ’00), offers field science and cultural exchange programs in Montana, Mexico, Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands. Their unique programs partner U.S. high school students with peers and scientists from Central and South American host communities. Pankratz credits his experience at UM with helping him develop the foundation for EPI.
Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures offers outdoor education programs in and around Missoula for all seasons and all ages, with an emphasis on youth. More than a decade ago, Porter Hammitt (UM ’95) recognized the need for more local outdoor education programs. Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures now operates successful programs for local kids and UM students alike.
Watershed Education Network, co-founded by Wendy Sturgis (UM ’94), is “growing the next generation of watershed stewards.” WEN works with local schoolchildren to monitor stream health in the Missoula, Bitterroot, Clearwater and Swan Valleys. WEN also offers several opportunities for UM students to volunteer, work as interns and participate in stream monitoring projects. Each of these programs occupies a distinct niche in the outdoor education market and all employ UM graduates and offer courses and internships for UM students.
Because students have shown such enthusiasm for these experiential education courses, SELL has decided to make a sampling of the best courses available to the community starting next year. Noncredit versions of field courses are being designed for an audience that loves the outdoors and loves to learn but doesn’t need university credit. These courses, collectively called Experience Montana, will be available in 2013.
To learn more about these and other courses offered through UM’s School of Extended & Lifelong Learning, call Candi Merrill at 406-243-6431 or email email@example.com.
For more information from the UM alumni, email:
Melanie Parker, firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrea Stephens, email@example.com
Dave McEvoy, firstname.lastname@example.org
Laurie Schleub, email@example.com
Scott Pankratz, firstname.lastname@example.org
Porter Hammitt, email@example.com