Dog Mushing, Desert Canyons, and Singing Out: EcoLeague Students on the Move!

by Jasmyn DiMeglio, EcoLeague Writing Intern

“We Dog Mushing at APUexperienced a waking jolt from an earthquake with a 7.1 magnitude, saw a moose and her calf, attempted to ski down a forty-degree angled hill with heavy sleds tied to our packs, and had the pleasure of setting up a tent in forty mph winds,” says sophomore Audrey Roberts, about her tour in the Alaskan mountains near Hatcher Pass. “Our ten-day trip was quite eventful.”

Whether packing for a dog sledding trip in blustery winds, preparing to rock climb in a desert, or registering a new Choir course, EcoLeague exchange students are also preparing for exciting surprises and diverse learning opportunities. Audrey, Andrew, and Melody are three of nine students participating in EcoLeague’s exchange program this Winter-Spring semester. Through this unique academic opportunity, students enrolled at any of the six EcoLeague member colleges have the option to move their studies to another campus for a semester or two during their undergraduate career. Located in disparate bioregions, such as the North woods of Wisconsin, the shores of the Atlantic in Maine, or the desert canyons of Arizona, each college offers a unique academic atmosphere in breathtakingly diverse landscapes. Despite the geographical differences, the small liberal arts colleges of the EcoLeague consortium are also very similar in their shared values of environmental thoughtfulness, sustainability, and social change.

Image of Andew and another student scaling a rock face in Joshua Tree National Park as part of their outdoor adventure experience. One student climbs on a rope, while the other rests at the top of a rock. The two students can barely be identified on the massive rocks.

Andrew limbing a 5.10a face climb on Short Wall, Joshua Tree National Park

“One similarity that I’ve found is that both schools attract a certain kind of student, individuals who are incredibly passionate about what they do,” says Andrew Nguyen, a student from College of the Atlantic (COA) in Bar Harbor, ME, who is currently on exchange at Prescott College in Prescott, AZ. “They are the kind of people who go above and beyond to follow their dreams, and are driven by their own self-direction,” he says. A sophomore majoring in Human Ecology with concentrations in Sustainable Business and Outdoor Ed., Andrew also appreciates the common emphasis on “hands-on” learning at both schools, which he says aligns well with his personal learning style. Though Andrew describes both Prescott and COA to be incredibly similar, he has also noticed slight differences between the two rigorous academic programs.

“Prescott College is different from COA in the sense that it has different academic strengths. Whereas COA has an amazing Environmental Science program, Prescott has an incredible Adventure Education program,” he says. Like many EcoLeague students, Andrew appreciates this difference as it provides for a rich and “well-rounded” educational experience. Andrew is excited by the opportunity to focus on improving his Outdoor Education (OED) skills at Prescott. Currently, he is enrolled in OED courses such as “Outdoor Program Administration” and “Fear & Risk Through Rock Climbing,” both of which he enjoys.

Image of a male student rigging his rappel with desert shrubbery and large rock mountains in the background. The student wears a blue long-sleeved shirt, khakis, and a grey helmet, and looks away from the camera to focus on the rappel.

Rigging a double-strand rappel on top of Pixie Rock in Joshua Tree National Park.

“My time at Prescott College has been an excellent opportunity to become a better educator, to understand more thoroughly the administrative and operational processes of outdoor programs, and to become more adept at risk-management and decision-making,” says Nguyen. After college, Andrew hopes to combine his sustainable business skills, which he’s cultivated at COA, with his Adventure Education training and eventually manage an “Outdoor School.” Enthusiastic about his Adventure Ed. courses as well as the supportive Prescott College community, Andrew believes his EcoLeague exchange will enrich his academic development and will be useful in accomplishing his future goals.

Meanwhile, roughly 3,588 miles away, Audrey Roberts also is impressed and excited by the rigorous OED program at Alaska Pacific University (APU) in Anchorage, Alaska. “One of APU’s programs I have found to be pretty amazing is the Outdoor Studies program,” says Audrey. Intending to major in Natural Resources with an emphasis in Fisheries & Wildlife, Roberts has also recently considered incorporating Outdoor Education into her degree after spending a few months at APU. “I took a ‘Winter Wilderness’ course that included camping and touring in the mountains for ten days—learning about camping in the winter and navigating the avalanche terrain. It was quite the experience,” she says.

Another notable aspect of Audrey’s exchange has been the classroom environment at APU, which is very similar to that at her home school, Northland College in Ashland, WI. “Classes are small and interactive. Teachers and students have a close relationship and help is never far behind,” she says. Audrey also appreciates how easy it is to become involved in extra curricular activities. “Like Northland, you can always find something to join; alpine club, climbing group, photography, or even a paranormal club,” says Roberts. Overall, the tight-knit community at APU has been a highlight of Audrey’s EcoLeague experience. “Everyone knows everyone. You can always find a friend to go for a climb or a hike on the trails around Anchorage!” In addition to the familiar values of community-building, Audrey also enjoys the enriching academic opportunities available at APU.

“The classes I’m taking here are definitely helping me think about and explore my choices in studying Fisheries,” she says. “My ‘Applied Research’ course meets once a week to discuss current issues in Fisheries and climate change. We also get to talk with APU’s graduate students about their senior research project findings,” says Roberts. Aside from her Fisheries studies, Audrey has also enjoyed exploring new subjects, such as her “Dog Mushing” course. “Every Saturday we meet and assist in handling the dogs in the races. What I’m most excited for is getting to help handle the dogs for the Iditarod race.”

Image of two students learning to mush husky dogs on a forest trail. The student to the left has pale skin, an orange hat, blue coat, and black pants. The student to the right has dark skin, wears a hooded grey jacket, and long grey pants.

Audrey learning dog mushing skills at APU

Despite the discipline, Audrey believes her EcoLeague exchange courses have ultimately enhanced her academic growth. “I full-heartedly believe that EcoLeague is helping me take giant steps in my academic career. Not only do I get to study in a different and absolutely beautiful place, I get to experience the same thing I would back home, except with different eyes,” she says. “You can only learn so much in one place. Since being up here I’ve learned about so many different kinds of fish and birds—it’s seriously amazing seeing and getting to learn all of it in the flesh instead of in a book.”

Like Audrey, Melody Sarian also appreciates the freshness of a new environment during her EcoLeague exchange at Green Mountain College (GMC) in Poultney, VT. “I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to EcoLeague and to have learned so much about the ways in which I can bring ideas back to my home school,” says Sarian. “Seeing different schools which I have ties to provides me the insight needed to instill change and fresh ideas between them.” A junior majoring in Liberal Arts Studies with a concentration in Creative Writing, Melody values the creative atmosphere at GMC, which is “eco savvy,” with plenty of nice people who are always willing to lend a hand, much like at her home school, APU. A returning EcoLeague student, Melody also believes the program has helped enrich her academic development on the path to her degree. “I have gained so much knowledge here that I’m almost certain I couldn’t get anywhere else,” she says.

Melody is particularly enthused by the REED program offered through GMC’s academics. “REED is an amazing Ecological Architecture program which I have really taken a liking to!” A unique major and academic department at GMC that combines both Architecture and Sustainability Studies, REED stands for “Renewable Energy & Ecological Design,” offering courses such as “The Ecological Design Studio”, “Revolutionary Europe”, and “Seminar to Interdisciplinary Approaches to Literature,” all of which Melody has really enjoyed.

Image of a wheeled "tiny house" with an exterior made of warm-colored stained glass. The house sits on a trailer bed in a grassy field with some remains of snow at sunset.

REED Program Tiny House Design

“I especially love the Arts and History classes I have taken here. The Arts program is so diverse and expansive towards individualistic, hands-on learning and I love it,” she says. Another course offered at GMC that Melody appreciates is Choir. “Choir has been one of the best things I’ve been a part of on the GMC campus because I love singing!” With a wide array of creative and intellectually stimulating course offerings, Melody’s EcoLeague exchange at GMC has been beneficial in regards to her future plans. “I’ve learned so much and want to apply this to any careers and artistic endeavors I will peruse in the future.”

Despite differences in geographic location and academic emphases, each EcoLeague school offers a unique and rigorous learning environment that values environmental awareness, creativity, community-building, and hands-on learning experiences. Regardless of the major, the exchange program serves to aid academic and personal growth in preparation for fruitful future and professional experiences. Whether trekking through Alaskan mountains, climbing rocky terrains, or studying art in the Vermont countryside, the EcoLeague exchange program provides students with expansive and exciting opportunities.

Image of a choir of Green Mountain College students, wearing blue and black dresses and tuxedoes, arranged on a multi-leveled riser and singing. A conductor stands in front of them with his hands raised.

GMC Choir’s “Jazz Ensemble” Performance