A University Partnership Grounded in Place, Reflection and Technology

In 2015, Ohio University graduate and Wyoming resident Ralph Haberfeld had an epiphany that has connected two distinct, picturesque places: Athens, Ohio, in the Appalachian foothills, and Jackson Hole, bordering western Wyoming’s Teton Range.

Thanks to that epiphany, Ohio University and Teton Science Schools forged a partnership that brings students from Athens, Ohio, to Kelly, Wyoming, each May for an educational program that challenges them to learn more about themselves, ecology, leadership, and systems and design thinking. This OHIO|TSS May Program is grounded in place-based education, which proffers that “community and place—[and] anything happening in that place—can be harnessed as a backdrop for learning,” says Kevin Krasnow, TSS graduate faculty. “Linking the classroom with community increases students’ engagement, content knowledge, community connections and impact.”

The week-long physically, intellectually, and emotionally-intense program begins with a 1.8-mile loop hike around the Teton Science Schools’ Kelly Campus. With 315 feet of elevation at 6,653 feet above sea level, the hike is a first-day challenge for students who live at just 719 feet above sea level. The hike’s route has come to represent the partnership and connection between Ohio University and Teton Science Schools. The path takes hikers through conifer, sagebrush, aspen, and riparian communities and provides opportunities for exploring and learning about these ecosystems and oneself; and for taking in beautiful views of the Teton Range.

Now, the Kelly Campus Hike can be experienced by anyone—from anywhere—thanks to a collaboration with mAppAthens, a web-based app for self-guided education.

At stop three, the Sagebrush Hillside, students are asked to pull out their journals and to reflect on their personal experiences and people who have had an impact on their own development. Junior Alli Mancz, a member of OHIO’s Boyd Scholars program, shared her entry from that unique moment:

 My connection to nature and willingness to live in what a previous professor explained as “a world of wounds” has pushed me to embrace taking risks, such as this trip to Wyoming… All these experiences have had (and will have) profound effects on how I perceive the world around me, how others perceive me, and I them. My exposure early on in life to the natural world as well as my family genetics and socioeconomic status have each inevitably impacted the blessings I am able to enjoy today. 

I feel another personal shift approaching as I become more distant from my sisters and brother and father. I wish it weren’t true, but these gaps shape me as well, especially my resilience limits. Honors Tutorial College and Ohio University may have been the most influential decisions thus far in my life, as my passion for knowledge expands and countless relationships and opportunities influence my (experience). I don’t know who I would be had I not interacted with the professors I’ve had and organizations I’ve joined (and dropped) in addition to the love and heartbreak I’ve experienced along the way. 

Toward the end of the week, Alli reflected in her journal on the OHIO|TSS May Program experience, and on this quote from conservationist Mardy Murie: “… you can’t be happy unless you like yourself, unless you can admire and respect yourself you can’t like others, and others can’t like you, until you are right within yourself.” She wrote:

I am cold. I am calm. I am at peace. 

Today has felt like such an incredible blessing. As snow falls and speckles my writing, I feel truly at peace with myself, something Mardy Murie quotes as fundamental to each person’s life journey. I believe I have come a long way. But there remains a very long way to go. I have more so come to terms with myself and am beginning to see my place here within this vast world and wilderness. The rippling water, the trees of vivid evergreen, the striking, muted colors of rocks and sand, the people whose paths I’ve crossed just in this week alone. I feel accepted, inspired, encouraged. This trip has been trying in some ways, but I feel much more self-assured after today’s conversations. I am starting to feel like I belong here and my curiosity continues to flourish. 

The snow is coming down faster now, making my written words watercolor art and India ink splotches. I look up to see blue sky, yet snow flurries fall quickly and make conifers across the riverbank look like abstract embodiments of pointillism — a life-sized snow globe encasing my vision. My fingers are numb, but I don’t mind. Let them freeze! I feel empowered by nature, its babbling sounds and impressive silence. My knee faintly aches — let it throb! I feel validated. There is love enough for me here, though I may be so small on our planet. I am special and beautiful and enough. And this momentary realization brings warm tears to my eyes. 

I know my parents would love this. Dad: the learning. Mom: the realization. I feel confident in my ideas for the first time in a long time and am excited for all the future may hold, including these last few days. Nothing is permanent. Nothing is promised. There’s something beautiful about that. 

Community feels real. When we need it most, our community must lend a fleece to cover cold shoulders or provide a bed to sleep in for the night or bake Murie’s spiced cookies to comfort a soul. A warm cup of tea. A hug. Eye contact. Human connection with one another and our environment. Nowhere else in this world has made my thoughts come more quickly, effortlessly really. Despite the cold and the snow, the wind and the air fill me with thoughts and wonders as nature bounds all around. 

We can’t lose this. There is something unmistakably human and precious about this world, the earth even before our creation. There is something rare and fundamental about taking chances, stepping up to be the bigger person, focusing on yourself. Because at the end of the day, that’s all you have and all you need. Despite frequent exposure to inspirational quotes, I am inevitably moved by Murie’s remarks. Her deep insight into the importance of the individual and his/her ties to our world and to others. It’s something I’ve struggled with my whole life. I still do. And yet, to see such similar words written by a stranger greatly moves me.

The Kelly Campus Hike has marked the beginning of journeys like Alli’s for nearly five years. The mAppAthens collaboration brings the power of that hike—and of the OHIO|TSS partnership—to our broader communities. 

Want to virtually explore the Kelly Campus Hike?

Take the hike here

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