A new Field Experiences course at Southern Arkansas University this spring sent 10 students embarking on a six-day adventure through national parks in West Texas and New Mexico. 

According to the Press Release, the students prepared for their expeditions to Guadalupe National Park, Carlsbad Caverns and Big Bend National Park for four months during the lecture portion of the class, which was held for the first time ever this past spring.

“The course was set up to be very democratic,” said Dr. Kate Sheehan, assistant professor of biology. Students made recommendations, voiced their concerns, and voted on the locations and activities for the 2018 trip.

Field Experiences is designed to give students a collegiate experience in which they get to know one another and make new friends while planning for an outdoor trip. “They decided which parks they would like to visit and which hikes we’d do,” Sheehan said. “I gave recommendations, but if they had a preference for something else, then we made modifications.”

The students, along with two chaperones, hiked Guadalupe Peak, a trek of more than 8 miles round-trip, and camped in the national park. They then drove to Carlsbad Caverns – which was physically cooler than being in the desert – and from there journeyed to Big Bend, where they camped. The trip included horseback riding, canoeing and swimming in the Rio Grande. Students drew on the many components they researched during the in-class section of the course.

WALK IN THE PARKS Grande - SAU 2018

They were able to plan in advance things they wanted to experience and observe, Sheehan said. “Some wanted to find fossils in the desert, others wanted to find certain organisms or wildlife, others wanted to view certain constellations,” she said. “The possibilities were limitless.”

The expedition rented cars and drove hours to Guadalupe, the site of the first hike.
“The desert was so much bigger than the students had imagined,” Sheehan said. “It was my first time traveling to these parks, too, so we all had a bit of a learning curve,” she laughed. “It was an eye-opening experience.”

Two documentary-style videos were made of the trip, as well as a mixed-media collage, all of which were presented to the public at SAU. “They had a week to put everything together for their presentations when we got back.”

“The course is not open to just science or biology students,” she said. “I want the next course to have students from the different colleges involved. I would love to take students from the College of Liberal and Performing Arts. I want them to be exposed to different approaches, different modes of thought.”

She said the students on this year’s trip forged new friendships. “It was an amazing thing to see.”

WALK IN THE PARKS trail riding - SAU 2018

The SAU Foundation, the College of Science and Engineering and the SAU Office of the President helped fund the trip, and some fund-raising was also done by the students. “One-hundred percent of the cost was covered,” she said. “Students only paid out of pocket for food.”

She thanked SAU for sponsoring the trip and looks forward to next year’s outing.
Participating students were: Ashley Albrecht, a junior majoring in Marine Biology, of Hot Springs, Arkansas; Kira Gibbs, a senior majoring in Wildlife Biology & Conservation, of Lonoke, Arkansas; Alexandria Hunter, a sophomore majoring in Biological Science, of Arkadelphia, Arkansas; Allysia Hurt, a senior majoring in Marine Biology, of Hope, Arkansas; Luke Lockeby, a junior majoring in Engineering, of Mineral Springs, Arkansas; Megan McClellan, a junior majoring in Wildlife Biology & Conservation, of Cabot, Arkansas; Sarah (Brooke) Morris, a senior majoring in Agricultural Science: Plant Science, of Annona, Texas; Emily Phillips, a senior majoring in Wildlife Biology & Conservation, of Elkins, Arkansas; Catherine Sanchez, a senior majoring in Marine Biology, of Little Rock, Arkansas; and Sara Seay, a senior majoring in Agricultural Science: Animal Science, of Atascadero, California.

Anyone interested in contributing to the 2019 trip would be able to do so via next year’s SAU Giving Day, when Muleriders unite and support SAU. Students interested in applying for the 2019 trip are asked to visit SAUMag.edu.