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Professor Matthew Dickerson will lead an intensive writing course in Alaska. (Photo: M. Dickerson)

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From Alaska to Addis Ababa: New Summer Courses Offer Travel-Study Opportunities

March 12, 2015


MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — Middlebury has announced a new program of immersive travel-study courses that will debut this summer.  Two of the courses, which will send students to Alaska and Ethiopia, have never been offered before, while two more build on the established programs, Middlebury FoodWorks and MiddCORE Sierra Nevada College. MiddCORE and FoodWorks are also open to non-Middlebury students.

A four-week writing intensive course focused on “Essay Writing on Nature: Alaska and Its Char,” will be co-taught by Professor Matthew Dickerson and Middlebury alumnus Dr. David O’Hara ’91, a philosophy professor at Augustana College. The course will use Alaska’s three native species of the char genus to explore much larger environmental challenges facing Alaska today. Based in Anchorage, students will explore nearby mountains and river systems and participate in wilderness hiking and camping trips.

"Being some place is very different than reading about it,” said Dickerson.  "Of course we will read about, and have lectures about, and study scientific and historical and cultural aspects of the watersheds. But we will also experience a place differently by simply being there, reflecting and observing.”

Dickerson says the course will be exciting and intense, with about twenty class days where the group is together from breakfast through dinner. He expects that each of the students will write at least two essays that could be submitted to a literary or eco journal. The class also builds in personal time for students to explore the region on their own.

On the other side of the globe, another group of students will delve into issues of development and aid work in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The course will be led by Claudia Cooper, Visiting Assistant Professor of English and American Literature and Education Studies, who previously brought students to Ethiopia in a 2008 J-term course, and visiting faculty member Nick Rogerson.  Students will live in the high-altitude capital city and work with children and adults impacted by development and aid work. 

“This is the kind of work I probably enjoy the most,” said Cooper. “It’s exhausting and exhilarating because, as students and faculty, you’re able to put everything into the course, or as one student on our last trip said, ‘You live it.’”

“We wanted to offer travel or field-based courses with exciting experiential opportunities that would be hard to accommodate during the regular academic year,” said Dean of Curriculum Suzanne Gurland, who oversees the new summer program. Although the program is optional and not part of the regular academic year, Gurland noted, students can earn Middlebury credit toward graduation requirements.

Two of the courses, based on established Middlebury programs, will offer experiential learning opportunities in the U.S. John Elder, College professor emeritus, will teach a course titled “Exploring Local Food Systems,” which will provide an academic complement for students doing internships through the Middlebury FoodWorks program, which places interns in Middlebury, Louisville, Kentucky, and Washington, D.C.

"I'm convinced that local food has become the core of the environmental conversation,” said Elder. "It brings into focus considerations of ecological sustainability, social justice, and wellness at every scale.”

As students in the FoodWorks program disperse to their various locations for paid internships, they will stay connected in their coursework through videoconferencing, online communication, and regular intensive visits by Elder to each of the three sites.

Students who are interested in Middlebury’s popular leadership and innovation program, MiddCORE, can experience the summer version of the course, which takes place at Sierra Nevada College near Lake Tahoe. Like its Middlebury based cousin, the Nevada program, now in its third year, helps students gain experience in leadership, strategic thinking, idea creation, and many other skills for students entering an increasingly innovation-driven economy.

Full descriptions of the course offerings can be found online along with faculty contact information for the necessary pre-class approvals.