By Kelly Pyzik
This year, the College’s classrooms are expanding across the world—to the Namib Desert in Nambia to Seoul in South Korea. There are two Special Topic courses offered this Fall that involve course-embedded trips in which students will be able to get first-hand experience researching what they have studied in class.
Biology 395, Namib Desert Ecology, will be taking a 17-day trip over winter break to Windhoek, Namibia to get on-the-ground experience studying the desert’s ecology. The eight students’ research will include visiting a uranium-mining site, a reservation site, a restoration site, and sampling wildlife and vegetation. Some of the vegetation they will study is indigenous and unique to the Namib Desert. The course is co-taught by Biology professors Kathy and Peter Jacobson, both of whom have done previous work at the research center that the students will be visiting. The Jacobsons took Grinnell students on a similar trip in the summer of 1990.
“It’s one thing to study a subject like ecology in the classroom or even the lab, but it’s another thing to actually get yourself into that environment and understand it first-hand,” said Kathy Jacobson. “This desert’s really neat because you have a number of different habitats right in the vicinity of the research station.”
The class is a seven-week, two-credit course in the fall, which will be followed up with another course in the spring, Arid Zone Reservation and Conservation Ecology.
Economics 295, Korea’s Economic Development, will be traveling to Seoul, South Korea for 10 days over winter break to gain first-person accounts of South Korea’s enormous economic growth between 1960-2010. With great help from Trustee Ambassador Kihwan Kim ‘57, students will meet government officials, business leaders and policy makers who were working during the economic boom to gain accounts of what happened from the Korean perspective.
“It’s an amazing story and we’re trying to get some appreciations of the key reasons the growth is occurring,” said Jack Mutti, Economics. “As you might expect, there is not just one accepted explanation. The story gets little pieces here that would appeal to one interpretation, the pieces there would appeal to another interpretation. We’re trying to sort through some of the important things that happened over time.”
As requirements for the trip, students must take not only the two-credit special topic course, but the four-credit course Economic Development, as well as Korean I through the ALSO program.
These course-embedded trips are a part of the Center for International Studies’ work to provide students with a global education, as well as a part of Grinnell’s Strategic Planning. The College covered a large majority of the trips’ cost—students were only asked for a small deposit to guarantee their plane tickets.
According to David Harrison, Director of the Center for International Studies, the Schindler Fund finances the Korea trip in large part. The remainder of the costs will be footed by the Strategic Internationalization Fund, which is supported by donors to the College. The fund’s purpose is to explore experiments that will help to internationalize Grinnell’s courses and campus.
The subsidized cost makes the trip accessible to students.
“The main reason I wanted to take the class is that I can go to South Korea almost for free,” Han Sol Choi ‘14 said. “I came from South Korea but I didn’t have any chance to learn about Korea’s history or economic history, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn about it.”
Faculty members involved with these courses believe the research trips will be great learning experiences, and are excited about the possibilities the trips will open up.
“It’s an opportunity for students to be able to travel abroad within the context of a class and really be able to stretch the boundaries of the classroom far beyond the boundaries of Grinnell,” Harrison said. “To think of the classroom as expanding to the rest of the world is pretty exciting. It’s something I would like to support and see grow with the Strategic Plan.”
The hope is that these courses will pave the way for more academic opportunities abroad, and that the relationships the College fosters with other countries will create internship and research positions for Grinnell students in the future.
“Right now, we’re sort of at a starting point, saying, ‘Let’s see what opportunities can be developed,’ ” Mutti said.