A recent spring weekend of hiking, camping and exploration of nature with outdoor safety and survival tips served as the “ultimate laboratory experience” for 14 biology, kinesiology and Wildlife Society students at Lone Star College-CyFair.
Professors Ronnie Nespeca, Clay White and Jason Moulenbelt gave students a hands-on, real-world, beyond the classroom, community college experience that won’t soon be forgotten as part of LSC-CyFair’s “Outdoor Adventure” Learning Community.
All Learning Communities combine two disciplines and are designed with projects and assignments related to a common theme. In this case, Nespeca’s Backcountry Expeditioning course, the only kinesiology camping-focused class in the LSC system, is combined with White’s General Biology II course.
“This is the only Learning Community currently in the system that combines kinesiology with biology,” said Nespeca. “This is a rare and wonderful experience where students not only get credit for both classes, but are involved in one of the most active and engaged learning classrooms that they will ever encounter.”
The goals for this learning community are simple: get students outside, teach them how to explore the outdoor world safely and provide the foundation for a life of enjoying and learning about nature, said White.
“For Professor Nespeca, the camping trips are the primary mode of instruction. He teaches the basics of camping, hiking and nutrition, while I periodically interject with various biological topics when nature provides the backdrop,” said White.
Volunteering the past three years to assist Nespeca in teaching some survival skills as well as hiking and camping skills on the camp weekend, was Moulenbelt, who teaches philosophy.
Friday, students learn to set up the tent, get water and basic rules around the camp. Later in the evening, they learn to build fire, basic fire safety and etiquette as well as Moulenbelt’s lessons on knife and axe safety. After dinner, there was a night hike that includes observation of nocturnal plants and animals.
Saturday’s agenda started with breakfast, making and packing lunch, stoking or rebuilding the fire, cleaning up, securing tents and packing up for a 9- or 10-mile hike. Then students learn about trail etiquette, trail safety, on the trail pack adjustments, water procuring and geocaching. Professor White also points out various plants, animals and fungi that demonstrate topics covered in classroom lectures.
“At lunch, I teach them about a PSK (Personal Survival Kit) which is a great one-person kit that has means of fire, signaling, first aid, way finding, water procurement and purification, as well as emergency shelter,” said Moulenbelt.
After hiking back at camp and before some free time Saturday evening, students complete a learning assessment for White’s class based on the day’s observations and then the students prepare a group dinner as an objective for Nespeca’s class.
“Each student needs to be actively a part of the dinner,” said Nespeca. “They also have to give a presentation of why they picked the meal and ingredients as well as provide the nutrition information, such as serving size, calories, fat, carbs and protein.”
Sunday, the group breaks camp and students learn how to pack up gear and stow it.
In addition to the two camping weekends each semester, there are career talks on achieving short- and long-term goals as well as stargazing Saturdays at Brazos Bend’s Challenger Learning Center.
“We teach students astronomy, astrology and Greek mythology relating to the stars,” said Nespeca. “Many ‘out of classroom’ topics are covered from exercise physiology and staying warm by eating a stick of butter, to group dynamics and how to be respectful, polite and work together as a team.”
This summer Nespeca and White are taking their Learning Community course abroad to Costa Rica as part of LSC-CyFair’s Study Abroad program.
“We will spend 10 nights in Costa Rica, five on the Osa Peninsula and another five in the Monteverde region,” said White. “Students will learn about international travel and experience biodiversity in a whole new way.”
For information on the “Outdoor Adventure” Learning Community, contact Nespeca at Ronald.A.Nespeca@LoneStar.edu or 281.290.3989 and White at Clay.J.White@LoneStar.edu or 281.290.5925. For information on future Study Abroad programs, go to LoneStar.edu/study-abroad.