My Beyond the Classroom experience was truly one of the most impactful experiences I have had as an undergrad. I spent my summer at the Flathead Lake Biological Station (FLBS) where I took three upper division ecology courses, Conservation Ecology, Landscape Ecology, and Alpine Ecology. These classes were field-based, meaning we spent 4 out of 5 weekdays in the field, usually Glacier National Park, learning about the ecosystems and the efforts in place to conserve them. My global theme for GLI is natural resources and sustainability, a theme in which these classes fit very well. These field-based courses had running themes of conservation, ethics, natural resources, and human impacts on the environment.
These courses taught me a lot about the methodology in the field sciences and helped me experience hands-on the profound impacts that humans are creating that are fundamentally altering these fragile ecosystems. For me, it also brought up a lot of questions surrounding the grassroots style of environmental activism and what we can do right now to face these wicked problems head-on. Specifically, I learned about the Citizen Science program in Glacier National Park, which is a scientific program that engages the public to gather data and information. This program is an excellent example of something here and now that people can engage with to make a difference.
Being able to spend so much time in the outdoors camping, swimming, and hiking helped to instill the importance of protecting our wild places and solidifies the need to do everything in our power to maintain our beautiful state. One specific experience we had was hiking Pitamakan Pass in Glacier. From the top, there are 360-degree views of mountain tops and valleys dotted with lakes and streams. Being able to see so far in every direction was insane. On the pass, there is a special type of fossil called stromatolites (see below). These are 1.4-billion-year-old fossils that detail the first signs of life on our planet. Looking at these in person was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen, as they are the oldest known fossil! They were also a humbling reminder of looking back into time before humans walked the earth and how life has evolved so very far. It was also a reminder of the ecosystems and organisms that existed so long before humans and made me reflect on the ways that humans have impacted places like Glacier National Park.