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Western Epiphanies: Lessons From The Largest Mobile Classroom In America

Mountain Journal collaborates with students from Whitman College's "Semester in the West" who share their thoughts about issues shaping an iconic region

Whitman College's Semester in the West is one of the most heralded immersive learning programs in the country and uses the West as its outdoor classroom. Photo of Utah's Castle Valley by
Whitman College's Semester in the West is one of the most heralded immersive learning programs in the country and uses the West as its outdoor classroom. Photo of Utah's Castle Valley by
Every other autumn, students at Whitman College from Walla Walla, Washington set out on an odyssey to find the real American West. Led by their intrepid leader, professor Phil Brick, who drives a pick-up truck and pulls a tripped-out mobile classroom behind, they spend almost 100 days on the road. 

Dr. Phil Brick leads Semester in the West
Dr. Phil Brick leads Semester in the West
Whitman’s vaunted “Semester in the West” is a crash course into the realm where mythology of landscape meets reality. It may just be best experiential full-immersion field program tiered to a specific region in the world.  For the last few years, Mountain Journal founder Todd Wilkinson has joined “Westies,” as they are called, teaching environmental journalism. 

As part of a new collaboration, students will be sharing some of their dispatches as they travel a wide arc stretching through the Pacific Northwest and Greater Yellowstone, into the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau, down to the delta of the Colorado River in Mexico and back north toward home.
The route of Whitman College's Semester in the West in autumn 2018.
The route of Whitman College's Semester in the West in autumn 2018.
Spending a week with them in September, Wilkinson says, “Westies are smart, outgoing, high-minded, thoughtful, curious, diversely talented, irreverent and cocky, fearless, hardy, and sometimes severely hygiene deprived. They are exactly the kind of young people that give me hope for the future. If you're inclined to feel dispirited about challenges facing the West, their resolve to leave the world better is all you need to become an optimist."

For the rest of this autumn, Mountain Journal will share the reflections of “Westies.” We think their essays offer valuable insight while students move through the region and interpret the issues with fresh eyes. MoJo will be publishing the pieces individually and, below, accumulating them as an easy-to-navigate travelogue. 




WHAT IS WILDER?

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Westies gather at the brink of the Lower Falls where it thunders into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Westies gather at the brink of the Lower Falls where it thunders into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
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Encountering The Modern Garden Of Eden In Two Variations
Noah Dunn contrasts public Yellowstone with a private ranch next door