It's one thing to see America from 35,000 feet and quite another to hear the crickets sing on Sapelo Island and feel the fresh air flowing in from Glacier National Park. University of Georgia students have a chance to do the latter during the annual Interdisciplinary Field Program, an eight-week adventure across the country that also allows them to ring up some serious science credits toward graduation.
Now in its 20th year, the IFP is a coast-to-coast van trip that mixes intensive study and eye-popping scenery, all under the guidance of UGA faculty in geology, anthropology and ecology. Sponsored by the Honors Program, the IFP is administered in the Franklin College of Arts and Science's department of geology.
"We've had many students over the years who've said the summer field program was a life-changing event for them," said David Wenner, a retired associate research scientist in geology who still manages the program and will be traveling with the students this summer. "It's one of the few summer programs where the students actually camp out and do some really incredible hikes."
Deadline to sign up for the IFP is Feb. 28. Students will leave from Athens on May 31 and return July 26. The program fee, which includes transportation, food, all camping and entrance fees and required excursions, is $4,000. Tuition is a separate charge and depends on the number of credit hours for which the student registers. (Students can earn 10 to 15 hours in all.)
"We're delighted to sponsor this field program, and we have found over the years that it does have the capacity to change lives," said David Williams, director of the Honors Program.
That's no surprise considering some of the sites students visit while they are taking classes: Point Reyes National Seashore, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park and Zion National Park. And on days off they will spend time exploring such cities as San Francisco; Portland, Ore.; Santa Fe and Las Vegas.
The eight-week program travels by van, moving every few days to new campsites. Camping conditions range from civilized to primitive, and participants provide their own tents, sleeping bags and other essential camping equipment.
"I feel as though I was lucky to be able to go on IFP while I was in college," said student Michael Beare, a 2005 participant. "It got me interested and involved in subject areas that I otherwise would have avoided. The format of the ‘living classroom' was able to pique my interest in the subjects. I now find myself looking at rocks and trying to determine what they are, looking into alternative energy models and solutions, and I have a renewed interest in Native Americans. I can honestly say that IFP has helped influence the way that I view America and myself."
Most students who take the IFP are freshmen or sophomores and some even come from other universities.