Environmental Education Seminar in the American Southwest

Maria Lally

Lally ZionMaria at the top of Angels Landing, one of the most popular hikes in Zion National Park, on her last day working in Utah in the summer of 2016

For my project I am developing a 1-credit environmental/wilderness education seminar for college students. I will focus on the American Southwest, more specifically Zion National Park and its surrounding US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management public lands. The seminar will include both in-class meetings and then an immersion trip, a design very similar to seminars within the Center for Social Concerns here at Notre Dame.

The first chapter of my project will be a short history and analysis of environmental/wilderness/outdoor education, what makes it successful, and any established connections between environmental education and sustainable lifestyle practices. My second chapter will be an environmental history of the American Southwest, particularly its public lands. My third chapter will combine these ideas to design a seminar, which will include a course description, course objectives, learning outcomes, and a syllabus.  

My goal for this project is to bridge the gap between conventional classroom experience and outdoor adventure by creating an educational and immersive seminar that emphasizes environmental history and the outdoor opportunities that each of the public lands in the Zion region have to offer. I believe that both experiential learning and environmental education are very valuable, and I’m looking forward to conducting research about its impact and then making my own impact on the field by designing this seminar. Outdoor education helps humans understand their place within the natural world, and also can inspire greater confidence through activities such as hiking and camping, which may be a new experience for many people. The seminar will also include a service component to show students practical conservation and preservation methods.

I have personal connections to this project because I took a geology course that included an immersive trip to Southern Utah and its parks, which then inspired me to work for a conservation corps for three months based out of Hurricane, Utah. I’m also hoping to enter into a career in environmental education with the National Park Service, so this project relates well to my post-graduate plans.