Interdisciplinary Honors Field Studies

Summer Interdisciplinary Field Studies Courses

Students observing orcas
Ursula Valdez and students observe a pod of Orcas near San Juan Island

The Honors Program is excited to offer Summer Quarter courses in the Interdisciplinary Honors Field Studies Program (IHFSP). Courses within the IHFSP demonstrate "field studies" in its broadest and most inclusive sense offering place and community based learning across a broad range of disciplines. These courses are purposefully designed to challenge students to explore interdisciplinary education through experience and create important connections between community and classroom. IHFSP courses happen domestically, providing an exciting alternative to international programs that allow students to explore the diversity and complexity of American culture, environment, and identity.

Students who wish to receive Honors Experiential Learning credit for these courses must complete the Experiential Learning Application for summer term. Unless you will be assuming a leadership role in the class, or the class has a focus in service, research is the most eligible category for Experiential Learning.

In Summer, 2017 the Honors Field Studies Program will offer the following courses:

Summer Quarter A Term


HONORS 230 B: The Ecology of Urban Seattle: A Classroom Without Walls (I&S)

Meets Honors Social Science core requirement

Instructor: Richard Conlin / rconlin@uw.edu
Credits 5 
T Th 9:40-12:30
Enrollment limit: 12

In this field studies course we will examine the ecological, social, and political factors in urban systems that promote the integration of urban communities and ecological realities. We will do this by traveling to a range of places, from the Northgate Urban Centers to the Cedar River watershed, to understand how they work and to hear from and interact with communities and experts. We’ll walk the streets and pathways and look at how the built environment functions to create great and diverse urban communities. We’ll also look at the underbelly of the city, the parks, watersheds, water systems, and other elements of the ecology and consider how they interface with the urban systems.

By examining and discussing these, we will gain a deeper awareness of how these systems function in relationship to each other, to social and economic diversity, and to growth management and climate change. Decisions about how to manage human requirements for the use of natural resources like land, water, energy and the interaction of human activities and communities can shape positive or negative relationships with the local and larger ecosystems.  This course uses viewing and assessing communities and their contexts on the ground to tell the story of the emerging urban paradigm that can lead to long term sustainability. The class is designed as a core text for those who are beginning to delve into urban issues, and a critical unfolding of realities for those who want to understand how urban systems and ecological realities intersect and co-exist.

HONORS 397A "Critical Perspectives on Homelessness"

Instructors: Rachel Vaughn and Josephine Ensign  rvaughn@uw.edu / bjensign@uw.edu

Credits 3


Mondays 1:30-4:20

Enrollment limit 12

Note: This is an Honors elective field studies course and, as this is a 3 credit fixed seminar, will not count toward your core requirement; however, you may wish to apply for Honors Experiential Learning credit.

This course allows an avenue for exploration of the issues of homelessness from a critical and interdisciplinary perspective. The course is grounded in a service-learning format; students will work in one of the many homeless youth-serving agencies in the Seattle area as an integral class requirement. There are a wide variety of community organizations as partners in this course, ranging from shelters, meal programs, health care agencies, and drop-in centers. In the class we will challenge you to identify and wrestle with your own biases towards homelessness, as well as critically analyze society's views on homelessness. We will analyze local, state, country and international public and professional writings as well as media coverage of homelessness in young people. Through active participation in this course, the student will be able to:

  • Value an understanding of differing perspectives on the 'problem' of homelessness in the Seattle area and in the US
  • Analyze the major social, cultural, legal, and political factors contributing to homelessness
  • Critically discuss the structural and ideological underpinnings of homelessness
  • Critique current media and academic writings and coverage of homelessness.

HONORS 220B Jointly listed with ENVIR 495 C "Landscape Change in the Pacific Northwest"

Meets Honors Natural Science core requirement

Tim Billo, Program on the Environment / timbillo@uw.edubr/> Credits: 5
Enrollment limit: 5

Field wilderness backpacking trip to Olympic National Park: July 8-July 16, 2017.

Course fee: In addition to regular UW tuition, students will pay a $160 course fee.

Students who are interested in this course should contact Professor Billo via email to find a time to meet and discuss their interest in the subject material and physical challenges of the course as well as confirm their availability for the dates of the backpacking trip. This course is entry code restricted, and entry codes will be given by Professor Billo.

Between 1895 and 2015, the Seattle area grew from 40,000 people to over 4.2 million. In the next 25 years, Seattle will grow by another 1.5 million. While it is debatable exactly how "wild" the landscape was prior to European settlement of the region, it is undeniable that now virtually every piece of accessible habitat in the lowlands of the Puget Trough has been severely impacted by humans at one time or another, in some cases irrevocably. It was by stroke of luck (due in part to the inaccessibility of the terrain in the early days), and a big dash of courage from some forward-thinking leaders around the turn of the 19th Century, that Olympic National Park and other areas like it were saved from the ax and/or development. In only 25 miles as the crow (or eagle) flies from Seattle, an international hub of high tech industry, one can begin a walk into the Olympic Mountains, a roadless area of over 1 million acres (approximately 1600 sq miles), not to mention similar areas in the Cascade Range. It is this short gradient from ultra-urban to "wilderness", that makes the region such an appealing place to live, as well as a unique place to reflect on landscape change (past, present, and future), and ramifications of this change (namely, the loss of “wild” spaces) for society in the Anthropocene.

Course format is a 8-day wilderness backpacking trip in Olympic National Park. Activities on the trip include: 1) student-led discussion of student-chosen readings and themes of the course, 2) contemplation and journal writing on the value and management of “wilderness”, and 3) direct observation of the effects of climate change and fragmentation on species and ecosystems. Prior to the trip, there will be online reading and discussion assignments. After the trip, an essay on a topic of each students' choosing and general written reflection in the form of a blog post, will be required. Readings will draw from some classic American nature writers, as well as other sources including psychology, ecology, history, philosophy, local writers, and perspectives from native Americans and other marginalized groups.

Photo Credit: Tim Billo

Course fee (in addition to regular UW tuition) is $160. UW will supply group camping gear and transportation. Students should supply sleeping bag, ground pad, backpack, and clothing--UW has some equipment to loan if needed. Course is limited to 10-11 students. No prior camping/backpacking experience is required or expected, but students should expect the trip to be physically challenging and should prepare for that challenge accordingly. The 9 day trip runs from a Saturday through to a Sunday, such that students working a summer job should only need to miss one 5-day work week.

More information on the course can be found here: https://timbillo.wordpress.com/2015/08/15/envir-495c-landscape-change-in-the-pacific-northwest-year-3/
or contact Tim Billo: timbillo@uw.edu

Summer Quarter B Term


HONORS 220A "Natural and Cultural History of the Pacific Northwest

Meets Honors Natural Science core requirement

Ursula Valdez / uvaldez@uw.edu
Credits 5
T TH 8:30 - 1:30
Enrollment limit: 12

Students must attend at least one overnight field trip in addition to class meetings. 

Field trips:

July 29-31 Full three days/two nights, Olympic Peninsula 

August 12-13 Full two days/one night, Friday Harbor, San Juan Island

In addition to regular UW tuition, students should expect to pay for their own meals during the field trips.

This course aims to provide a hands-on introduction to the natural and cultural history of the Pacific Northwest through the study of contemporary and historical issues. Students will develop an understanding of the interconnected relationships between human and natural systems in the Pacific Northwest and its influence in the global context. This will be achieved through the discussion of place-based case studies about patterns in the use of resources and the resulting impacts on society, the environment, and the economy in local and global contexts. Course topics will include biodiversity, natural history and conservation, rural and urban resource use and approaches to sustainability, traditional use of resources among others. An emphasis will be placed on understanding past and contemporary socio-environmental challenges and solutions in the Pacific Northwest. Students will also explore various forms of relations between natural systems and human communities, such as with Native Americans, urbanites, rural communities, loggers, fisherman, and others.

In this course, students will develop an understanding of key ecological and social processes affecting Pacific Northwest ecosystems. In addition, students will gain a basic understanding of economically and ecologically important species and ecosystems found in the region.

Class time will include very short introductory lectures, discussions of case studies, and mainly we will spend time in local field trips. During field trips students will be conducting observations, data gathering and will be trained in basic fieldwork skills. Local fieldtrips will be during class time, however, students will be required to go on at least ONE overnight/long-weekend field trip.

Specific Course Goals:

  • To gain an understanding of the history and complexity of natural and human systems and key socio-environmental relationships in the Pacific Northwest.
  • To be exposed to the challenges and solutions to environmental, economic, and social relationships found in the Pacific Northwest in the local and global context.
  • To develop a basic understanding of the natural history of the Pacific Northwest
  • To apply the scientific method, gain analytical and professional skills, and to conduct independent research.
  • To improve the ability to synthesize and communicate information effectively to a diversity of audiences.
  • To help students form an educated opinion on the issues discussed in class in ways that empowers them personally and as engaged participants in society.

What our students are saying about this course:

“One of our assignments entailed us taking to social media to raise awareness for the conservation issues we were learning about in class. For mine, I posted a snapchat regarding the hypocrisy of whale-watching vessels being seen as a "conservation" effort, when really the noise pollution and crowding of the vessels was interfering with the daily goings-on of Orca whale populations.”

Students at Friday Harbor Labs
Students getting a first-hand look at research in UW's Friday Harbor Laboratories

"We learned to move their wings and bodies by the joints, not to tug at them, and what measurements to take. We learned how to tell their gender (with great difficulty) and how to tell their age (which we determined by their plumage, with a high rate of molting as they gained their adult feathers). We also learned how to tell their amount of body fat, from identifying its yellow-orange appearance, and how to discern whether or not they had been caring for an egg, from the bare circular patch on their stomach. Overall, there were so many minute details which I had never before considered when observing birds."

“Spending a weekend on the coast and taking the time to see the tide pools, rivers, ocean, and more was a very cleansing experience for me in terms of helping me get over my reverse culture shock, because it put me in an environment that encouraged me to better see and understand the world in which I grew up."