TWIN FALLS • Nearly 30 College of Southern Idaho students kicked off their summer by taking classes across the globe.
Students recently returned from two academic trips: field geology in Scotland and Wales, and marine biology and ecology in Belize.
The trips allowed students to gain hands-on learning experiences and broaden their perspectives of the world.
“The whole point of these classes is to get students out into the field,” geology professor Shawn Willsey said.
For about a decade, CSI’s geology and biology departments have offered academic trips. But it was the first time in recent years college administrators gave the OK for international travel.
“We hadn’t really been able to leave the country for a while,” said CSI biology lab manager Sarah Harris, one of two employees who led the Belize trip.
But Harris and biology instructor Carrie Espasandin took 18 students to Belize from May 25 through Thursday for the first time in 11 years.
Participants included four CSI students who are studying science and 14 people from the community education program, including several in their 70s. During spring semester, the group met once a week for class to learn about Belize and do a research project.
Once they arrived in Belize, “they all got to see firsthand what they learned about in class,” Harris said.
They stayed on the island of Ambergris Caye, where they spent every day snorkeling and exploring marine environments such as mangrove swamps, coral reef habitat and seagrass beds.
The group stayed at an “upscale youth hostel,” Harris said, with a freshwater swimming pool. It was two blocks from the ocean and about half a mile from a coral reef.
Guides were local Belize residents who’ve trained to be naturalists, Harris said, and pointed out various species and ecological processes. Students observed problems with the environment and the effects of warming ocean temperatures.
Meanwhile, Willsey led a field geology class May 13-22 in Scotland and Wales. To prepare, eight students met each week during spring semester to learn about the geology of the region.
They researched topics, made presentations and took a comprehensive exam. But a big portion of their grade was field journals, where they recorded scientific observations and hypotheses during the trip.
Geology major Will Froehlich, 22, was one of the class participants. He plans to graduate from CSI this fall with an associate’s degree and then transfer to Boise State University.
He decided to sign up for the class to get hands-on geology experience. “I’m really looking for some field work,” he said. “Shawn told me this class was right up my alley.”
It was also a chance to experience a different culture. It was Froehlich’s first time outside of the United States.
The course fee was $600 and students were responsible for buying their own plane tickets.
Each spring, the geology department offers a field-based class, with the location changing each time. Past trips have been to sites such as big island of Hawaii, Grand Canyon, Oregon coast, Death Valley and Yosemite.
For many years, the geology and biology departments offered a joint trip. This year, though, they decided to split up into two separate trips.
In the future, Willsey would like to take students to places such as Iceland, Baja, Calif., and the Canadian Rockies.
But Scotland is a particularly relevant place to take geology students. Many of the fundamental concepts and principles in geology have their origins in the country during the late 1700s, Willsey said, including James Hutton’s view of the Earth’s age and how rocks form.
Willsey — along with Jeff Cooper, a soil, environmental technology and water resource instructor — led the trip last month. Some participating students had never seen the ocean or been on a plane.
“Their experiences outside southern Idaho are pretty limited,” Willsey said. Students gain cultural experiences and “life lessons you can’t replicate.”