Students traveling to the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas saw what a devastating hurricane does to beaches and to objects as large as boulders. They saw what the influence of man and of warmer waters has done to coral reefs. They were able to compare fossilized geologic structures with ones in building stages.
"What I love most about this course is that it allows students to observe, in person, geology in action," said Diana Boyer of atmospheric and geologic sciences, who co-organized the study-then-travel experience. "It forces them to practice careful observation, careful recording and communication within the group and with others. . . . The students come away from it to be better observers."
Other eight-week courses wound up with study abroad for 7 to 17 days. Students traveled to Calcutta to perform on stage with actors from India, to Benin in West Africa to share knowledge about permaculture, to Cuba to experience culture through photography and music, and to Ecuador for a mountain-climbing expedition.
Joshua McKeown, director of international education and programs, said that not only have faculty and sometimes staff members responded in increasing numbers to opportunities for quarter-length courses involving study followed by travel, but there is "richness, a diversity of locale among new and existing faculty" for the courses. Oswego has 11 such offerings scheduled this spring, with summer travel to Ecuador, Germany, India, Ireland and more countries.
"These are trips involving active research projects, ongoing activities in learning," McKeown said. "They follow a well-designed course structure and produce authentic, rich encounters with people and cultures abroad."
Teamwork in action
For certain, McKeown said, there's a great deal of work for faculty and for his office involved in preparation for an eight-week course, the international travel and the busy agenda of a relatively short-term trip. "Without compelling leadership by committed faculty, we would not be having these successes," he said.
On San Salvador, Boyer's students in "Geology of the Bahamas" traveled for 10 days with their peers in the Hobart and William Smith Colleges class of geoscience professor Nan Crystal Arens. Barriers among the 17 students broke down as they teamed up to make a YouTube video about trash from a sunken freighter and elsewhere around the world littering the shore.
"The entire group got together and we actually made a spoof newscast," said Oswego senior geology major Holly Cohen, though she emphasized the intent was serious: to raise awareness of the human impact on the easternmost island in the Bahamas archipelago, including the very beach where experts believe Christopher Columbus and crew first landed in the Americas.
Junior geology major Gina Palumbo said the students also organized into research groups. "Each group had a different task to do," she said. "We measured the ripples in the sand, we looked at the grain size on each beach, the different types of shells that were there, any storm surge that was possibly on the beach. We snorkeled, so we saw coral reefs and the effects climate change and pollution are having on them, with garbage stuck around the pieces of coral."
McKeown emphasized that scholarships and other opportunities have put the cost for study-then-travel courses within reach of more students than ever before. SUNY Oswego recently won national recognition from the Institute for International Education for the "I, Too, Am Study Abroad" campaign to raise awareness and provide mentoring on campus for students traditionally underrepresented in international study.
For more information on short-term courses and the many other study abroad opportunities, visit oswego.edu/international.