Editor’s Note: This year, Nicole Gautier will write a regular blog about her experiences as a graduate student in Teton Science School’s Graduate Program. In her first installment, Nicole shares how she has grown in the first few weeks of the program.
It is the first day of fall in Wyoming. On the trails behind campus, I labor uphill in knee-catching tall grass, sun in the eyes. My breathing is heavy, and I tell myself that I am still adjusting to the altitude.
In a way, we all are. This graduate program expects elevated things from us. Core competencies. Leadership principles. We arrived, and were handed a sheaf of maps to decipher. The Tetons are to the west, right? How do we connect people and place? Maps are crucial to learning any new topography. They are not limited to the ground beneath our feet, but expand into the language and ethos decided upon by the community. This is why, as students, we are asked not only to make literal accounts of space, but to map ourselves and our growth through leadership and teaching reflections.
So we wake up with the sun. Expand our lungs. Orient ourselves.
Field science education is essentially about fidelity to place. After being ushered into the community here and introduced to the map of organizational values, our cohort was immersed in the landscape. Field days were spent in the sagebrush, in the cottonwoods along Ditch Creek, and eventually, high on the Teton Crest trail. We internalized fault blocks, an ancient shallow sea, and three glaciations. On Hurricane Pass, the proximity to the peaks made our hearts pound. It is the intention that we will use these excursions to create experiences for future field education students at the Kelly Campus.
David Foster Wallace writes of endeavors “that make your head throb, heart-like.” As a Teton Science Schools’ graduate student, I keep coming back to this thought. There is a new pulse to the days, and we have to adjust our rhythms accordingly, just as the wildlife of Jackson adjusts to the onset of fall. Sometimes it feels like our heads can’t contain it all. But this is why we are part of a community. It is why we make maps.
Seeing the next year of your life in a progressive schedule can be vertigo-inducing. We are opening ourselves to the mountains and valleys, to endeavors of brain and self. With points of reference, a slight dizziness becomes acceptable. The next step is to make this place our own.