Wyoming Field Studies at UHC Bring Classrooms to the Western Landscape

By Edward McCord


The Wyoming Field Program made great strides this summer on two fronts.  The anchor course in geology, ecology, paleontology, and archaeology doubled its enrollment, attracting freshmen through seniors from ten majors from the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and the Swanson School of Engineering.  We also installed two 8,000 lb shipping container cabins on the prairie bluff, outfitted with bunks, doors, windows, a kitchen, and storage space.  Thus, equipped with permanent and secure housing for the first time, twenty students and faculty year after year can retreat from their tents to safe refuge in steel fortresses when prairie winds and storms bring their forces to bear.

Experts from four institutions collaborate with the University of Pittsburgh to afford students the very best instruction in this 4-credit interdisciplinary course that entitles its mission, “Learning to Read the Earth.”  Paleoecologist Mandela Lyon, Program Development Coordinator at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, leads the course and oversees instruction in Geology.  Dr. Steven Latta, Director of Conservation and Field Research at The National Aviary, oversees instruction in Ecology.  The University of Wyoming’s Dr. Kelli Trujillo brings her valuable service every summer as our lead instructor in dinosaur paleontology, and Dr. Gary Beauvais, Director of the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database, affords us the wide-ranging expertise of his staff in the state’s ecological environments and challenges.  Dr. Richard Adams of Colorado State University, formerly Senior Archaeologist for the Office of the Wyoming State Archaeologist, oversees a vital few days of instruction in Native American Culture and Archaeology. 

The good news this summer was our expanding relationship with the University of Wyoming by way of support from the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources and its prestigious Biodiversity Institute that is led by Dr. Carlos Martinez Del Rio.  Dr. Martinez Del Rio welcomed the class with his own splendid presentations and provided use of the classrooms and lecture halls at his stunning new Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center.  The Haub School generously offered the students accommodations at the University of Wyoming-National Park Service Field Station in the Tetons during a trek around Wyoming. 

When not living on the prairie three days each week, the Field Course resides on the University of Wyoming campus in historic Laramie near the spectacular Laramie Mountains to the east and snow-capped Medicine Bow Mountains to the southwest for regular hiking, camping, and field learning.  Easy access to such extraordinarily diverse environments multiplies many times over the resources available for stimulation of every discipline studied in the course. 

The Wyoming Field Program also provides an intensive arts workshop for 2-1/2 weeks that has become an elite experience for Studio Arts majors.  Delanie Jenkins, Chair of Studio Arts who conceived the course and mentors the students, describes the arts program as a microcosm of a graduate MFA program. Housed amid a lodge in Rock River, some camping at the Spring Creek Preserve, and camping in Utah during a field trip exploring two significant art earthworks in and around the Great Salt Lake, the students' observations and experiences impact their intentions in the studio.

Their makeshift Wyoming studio is a large room within a 1919 era bank building in Rock River.  Though it has neither running water nor the small luxuries of Pitt’s studios, there is electricity and plenty of natural daylight, being above ground with a southeast facing wall of windows.  Everything from the incessant wind to the fossils of the Spring Creek Preserve impresses itself on the students who then improvise techniques, materials, and tools to solve problems and to create work. Though the intention is not to make work about Wyoming, students translate their experiences through their use of material to explore emerging themes: the contraction and expansion of time, rural and urban landscapes, isolation and claustrophobia, life cycles and decay, and the reflection and transformation of self that is possible within each.

For more information about the Wyoming Field Studies course in geology, ecology, and anthropology see http://www.honorscollege.pitt.edu/wyoming-field-studies.

For more information about 2014 Studio Arts Field Study in Wyoming see http://www.studioarts.pitt.edu/node/452 .