Honors News Archive

News in Brief

Exploring America's Best Idea: Updates from Honors in the National Parks

Oct 14, 2015
Black Canyon lecture

Black bears? Check. Ten students crammed happily in a 3-person tent? Sure! Rain, sun, thunder, hail? Yep. Climbing Rangers, backcountry Rangers, interpretive Rangers; geologists, writers, glaciologists? Got ‘em. Hiking, camping, backpacking, swimming? Of course!

Welcome to Partners in the Parks!

Through Partners in the Parks (PITP), a program administered by the National Collegiate Honors Council, honors programs at host universities partner with a National Park in their region to create exciting week-long “academic adventures” that bring students from across the country together to explore the complexity of an individual park. Since 2011, UW Honors has participated in PITP by offering programs in Olympic and Mt Rainier National Parks, as well as encouraging our own students to attend programs around the US. Additionally, we have been able to award one scholarship to a UW PITP participant each year, through which our students have explored Acadia, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and Glacier National Parks.

Hiking in Mt Rainier

PITP participants not only get to recreate in some of America’s most scenic destinations, but also get the inside scoop on what a park really "is" and "does" by meeting the incredible people whose research and work ensure its survival, insight that may open up future career pathways. Dana Reid (‘17, Environmental Science & Terrestrial Resource Management), our 2015 Partners in the Parks scholarship recipient, spent a week exploring Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Reflecting on her experience, Dana wrote, “Never in my life have I met a group of people more committed to their job and more unified in mission than the Rangers of Black Canyon. Their enthusiasm for what they do, their never-ending energy to talk to us about the parks they love, and their excitement to be working in such a beautiful place was absolutely awe-inspiring. It didn’t take long for me to decide that working at a National Park alongside people like this was something I wanted for my own future. I decided that the most influential part of my trip was not the nature within the park, but the people who protected it.”

Ideally, PITP programs allow students to expand their understanding and knowledge of, and concern for, America’s wild places, while simultaneously challenging themselves intellectually and personally. As Dana realized, “At the start of my trip, I was especially excited to learn about Black Canyon’s flora and fauna, get in a bit of amateur bird watching, and immerse myself in nature. However, I quite unexpectedly discovered that the most engaging parts of the program often had nothing to do with nature at all. Certainly a pouring thunderstorm, jumping into an ice-cold river, watching a meteor shower from the top of a van, plus a dozen informative and engaging talks with Rangers, haikus, and a fireside presentation from a cowboy poet were not in the original plan for my week in Colorado—but I’m very glad they were.”

Mt Rainier group photo

Similarly, this year Honors advisers Aley Mills Willis and Laura Harrington explored Mt Rainier with 10 students from Florida, Kentucky, Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. In our group, some students had never hiked before; a few had never slept in a tent; most had never backpacked; many had never seen a volcano or major mountain range before. Through sharing these firsts (and many s’mores!) with each other, our community of new Junior Rangers was able to learn that these discoveries—both about the natural world and about ourselves—are part of what makes the National Park system such a unique and vital force in our national and personal identities.