UHC Yellowstone Summer Field Course

General Information

Summer four-week field course (BIOSC 0740)
June 11, 2018 - July 10, 2018

Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m.–7 p.m.


Edward McCord, PhD, JD
University of Pittsburgh
University Honors College
Pittsburgh, PA 15260


K-Z Ranch (pronounced "K bar Z") Map

The field program is held at the K-Z Ranch, located on the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway (State Route 296) that follows the Clarks Fork Yellowstone River, Wyoming's only National Wild and Scenic River. The northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park is only 25 miles away. The ranch offers excellent living accommodations and is perfectly situated to provide a starting point for the program's field trips to Yellowstone, the Beartooth Mountains, Sunlight Basin, the Clarks Fork Canyon, and other destinations.

K-Z Guest Ranch 
P.O. Box 2167
Cody, WY 82414

Teaching faculty

The instructor in geology is Bill Harbert, PhD, professor of geology and planetary science at the University of Pittsburgh, a scientist and educator who specializes in environmental geophysics and Geographic Information Systems. The instructors in ecology, alternating year by year, are Carlos Martinez del Rio, PhD, director of the Biodiversity Institute at the University of Wyoming, and Gary Beauvais, PhD, and George Jones, PhD, director and co-director respectively of the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database (WYNDD), the official team of University of Wyoming botanists, zoologists and ecologists that inventories Wyoming biodiversity statewide for clients such as the state government and The Nature Conservancy. The instructor in ethics, policy and humanities is Don Hopey, an instructor in Pitt’s Environmental Studies Program and seasoned newspaper reporter who has covered environmental issues for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette since 1992.

General description

This course is team taught by three consecutive faculty members. Classes meet six days a week (Monday through Saturday), beginning immediately after breakfast and ending at dinner. There is ample free time for recreation and contemplation, and this course is designed to provide students with profound aesthetic, physical, and spiritual as well as intellectual adventures. Field studies are emphasized and comprise at least 50 percent of the student contact hours. These field experiences include part-day and full-day trips by van, overnight backpacking trips, and part-day horse trips to higher elevations. There is extensive hiking, often strenuous and at altitudes above 10,000 feet.

Course content

The three consecutive faculty members of this course cover three subjects: (1) the physical origins of the Yellowstone National Park region; (2) the organization and function of the major Yellowstone ecosystems; and (3) philosophical, economic, political, and legal issues that arise in contemplating the future of the Yellowstone region.

Field trips

Students are expected to attend all field trips. At least 50 percent of the course time is spent in the field, i.e., areas within or adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. Field trips consist of visits to prepared exhibits within and outside the park, to museums within and outside the park, to the Yellowstone Institute in the Lamar Valley, and to events such as the Cody Rodeo. Field trips also include hiking, often strenuous, at altitudes above 10,000 feet. Students are expected to fully appreciate both the physical and intellectual dimensions of this course and should be physically prepared for these types of challenging activities.


This course should appeal to a wide range of able and motivated students. Future politicians, historians, writers, and philosophers as well as biologists, geologists, and anthropologists would benefit from this interdisciplinary exploration of a region having unparalleled environmental interest and significance.


Because students from many different departments are encouraged to take this course, there are no prerequisites. It is anticipated that capable students will rapidly acquire the limited amount of background knowledge needed in the course.


Approximately $4,800 for room, board, tuition, and all other expenses excluding air fare to and from Billings, MT.

Class size

Ten students.


Each of the three sections of this field course requires you to read specific background material. The texts will be distributed to you at least six weeks prior to the start of your session. It is imperative that you read the material before your session begins. Most of your course time will be spent either in the field or discussing the application of the basic material to your observations. A small library of readings is available at the K-Z Ranch, which can be used to expand your understanding of course topics beyond the basic level presented in your assigned readings.


Usually there will be an examination given at the end of each of the three sections of the course. The first exam will focus primarily upon the geology of the greater Yellowstone region. The second exam will test your knowledge of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The third exam will focus upon your understanding of a range of prominent philosophical, legal, political, and economic issues that have arisen for environmentalism in the Yellowstone area. The exams may involve oral or written field practicums. A journal may also be required and play a role in grading.