Experiential learning courses immerse students in national parks

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The Dixie State University Physical Sciences Department has teamed up with the Outdoor Recreation and Adventure Center to offer experiential learning courses at Zion National Park for the first time this summer.

The “stay, do and learn” courses will be held at the Tanner Amphitheater near the entrance of Zion National Park in Springdale. Students will be staying overnight and will be earning credits in general biology lab, geology lab and physical education. The course will last two weeks during the summer and will include intensive outdoor field experiences, said Kelly Bringhurst, DSU physical science department chair.

“The purpose of [experiential learning] is to get students outside of the traditional classroom and learn from actually doing physical activities,” Bringhurst said. “It will be a lot more memorable and easier to understand by having real, hands-on experiences rather than book learning or sitting in a classroom.”

Students will be learning by studying real-life examples of biology and geology in Zion National Park, while hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding, mountain biking, rappelling and canyoneering.

“For example, we might do a hike from Observation Point down into the valley at Zion and look at the changes in life zones in the trees and the plants from high altitude to low altitude,” Bringhurst said. “And then we’ll also look at the canyon floor and observe the geology of the area and study how the canyon formed the way that it did.”

Luke Wilkins, DSU outdoor recreation coordinator, will be leading the outdoor recreation activities of the experiential learning courses this year.  

“My goals for the program are to get students out and experience southern Utah for themselves,” Wilkins said. “We have so many cool places in our own backyard that many students here often don’t get the chance to experience.”

Wilkins will be leading activities like canyoneering and rappelling at Zion National Park and kayaking at Kolob Reservoir. Throughout the course, the students will also visit Bryce Canyon National Park and Grand Canyon National Park.

Each location will offer unique perspectives on the biology and geology of the area, Bringhurst said.

“In all of our outdoor [recreation] activities, we’ll always be trying to combine the biology and geology aspects while [we are] out there,” Bringhurst said. “The goal is to make it enjoyable learning that the students will look forward to, not just making them do an assignment or listen to a lecture.”

Bringhurst said he also hopes these new courses will attract a more international audience to DSU.

“We’re trying to make DSU a destination school,” Bringhurst said. “People from all over the world come to our doorstep to see the unique geological formations and ecosystems we have here … We think we’ll be getting more international students [who] sign up for this because these locations really do have international draw.”

Bringhurst said he is hoping local DSU students who enroll in the experiential learning program will be able to form lasting friendships with the international students who come down for it, and more people will be able to be introduced to DSU.

“Students that take the course will form bridges with other students from, say, China or Nigeria,” Bringhurst said.

The three experiential learning courses will be held May 11-24, June 1-14 and June 22-July 5, while the environmental science field experience course will be held June 16-19. The prerequisites are Biology 1010 and Geology 1010, which can be taken online. Registration for all four courses are currently underway on the DSU website