Spring Semester in the U.S. Southwest


In a time when disturbances to our economic, social, and environmental systems are becoming more frequent, unpredictable, and intense, working to create more resilient systems has become imperative. Our studies will take place in the incredible Saguaro-cactus-dominated Sonoran desert, an ecosystem that is a model for resilience in the face of difficult conditions. As we explore the rivers, canyons, and rock formations of the high deserts and learn of the incredible tenacity of the local life, we gain inspiration for, and models of, the kind of changes that we need to make in our human systems.

In our travels, we’ll explore solutions being worked on by local organizations and individuals that address regional, national, and global issues. We visit indigenous communities whose cultures have successfully adapted to local conditions and learn of their efforts to keep their communities strong in the face of environmental and social injustices. We especially focus on the work being done to create new, and adapt existing, systems with the capacity to absorb inevitable change.

Finally, we explore personal resilience and renewal as we develop our own leadership skills and dedication for positive transformation.

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Spring Semester Course Descriptions for Undergraduates and Gap Year Students

Leading and Learning for Transformation and Resilience

Interdisciplinary course designed to fulfill social science, education, or environmental studies requirements – 3 credits

This course surveys models of education and leadership and their roles in the sustainability movement. It also introduces the holistic, experiential, and progressive education model used by the Expedition Education Institute. The living and learning community provides an excellent opportunity for individuals to develop their skills and practices as leaders, learners, and advocates. Through experience, action, and reflection, students collaboratively explore transformative approaches to education and being the change.

Learning Community as Personal and Social Change

Interdisciplinary course designed to fulfill social science, education, outdoor leadership, psychology, or environmental studies requirements – 3 credits

Explores the learning community model and its influence on one’s personal well-being, community, and culture. Students learn group development theory and practice facilitation, decision making, cooperative communication, and conflict resolution skills. They become skilled in outdoor community living and learning. Trust, including the honoring of our commitments to one another, emerges as a foundation of our efforts. Students develop experiential and intellectual foundations necessary to establish learning communities in other settings.


Culture and the Environment

Interdisciplinary course designed to fulfill social science, anthropology, sociology, human ecology, or environmental studies requirements – 3 credits

Cultures shape the ways humans interact with the land, and historically, they have been closely adapted to their local environment. Students investigate the ways that culture can support a sustainable society by exploring dominant US culture, regional subcultures and past and present local indigenous cultures. We look especially at the implied environmental ethics of cultural practices and beliefs. Students consider approaches to changing our culture to promote sustainability and whether their own unexamined beliefs and actions are in line with their environmental values.

Energy Issues and Sustainable Solutions

Interdisciplinary course designed to fulfill environmental science, environmental studies, or sustainability requirements – 3 credits

Cheap fossil energy has fueled the rise of our modern consumer society. Its extraction, production, and burning has led to environmental destruction locally, regionally, and now with climate change, globally. To understand the role of energy in our society, we examine where it comes from, the way it is used in the economy, the environmental impacts it has, and alternative energy sources and economic systems that can help us transition away from our fossil fuel dependence. We also explore adaptations and resilience models as part of the solution to climate change.

Living and Water Systems of the Southwest

Interdisciplinary course designed to fulfill natural science, ecology, or environmental studies requirements – 3 credits

The plains and the desert grasslands of the Southwest have a flora and fauna ingeniously adapted to live in its harsh environment. It also has one of the most diverted and altered water systems on the globe. This course serves as a broad overview of the geological and ecological forces that gave rise to the plains and desert landscapes along with a multidisciplinary study of regional water issues. It focuses on the interrelationship between human populations (individuals, communities and industry) and water systems, and the impacts to local ecosystems and the broader region.

Each course is designed to earn 3 credits, with the full semester program designed to earn 15 credits for enrolled undergraduate students.

The five courses are a package deal; they cover the breadth and depth of our experiences, supporting each individual and the whole learning community to extend the learning beyond what is possible through single modes of learning in separate courses.