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Welcome to the World

September 20, 2018
group of people on a rocky beach with a UW flag
Students pose at Vikingheimer near Reykjavik during their first-year seminar that started in Iceland prior the fall semester. (Photo by Anne Alexander)

Innovative first-year seminars invite incoming freshmen to travel the globe.

By Micaela Myers

Imagine you’ve decided to attend the University of Wyoming, but before you ever step inside a classroom, you fly around the world with professors and fellow students. A few of this year’s incoming students did just that as part of UW’s innovative new first-year seminars abroad. Inaugural offerings included
a trip to Iceland that took place before the semester started and a trip to Costa Rica after first semester.

Freshman business major James Thompson of Belmont, Calif., was one of 15 students who enrolled in the Iceland option. “Going to Iceland will not only allow me to have a friend group before college starts but also experience something many others haven’t,” he said before the trip.

History freshman Colorado French of Greybull, Wyo., was also looking forward to the excursion: “I think it is going to be a really fun experience learning about the Vikings and how the most revered maritime raiders in history financed their conquest and raids. I also am excited to see Iceland and experience being out of the USA.”

He hopes to participate in other education-abroad trips during his time at UW. “I think the experiences from traveling abroad are going to have a great impact on how I see the world and what type of person I become,” French says.

The Iceland expedition was led by Anne Alexander, associate vice provost for undergraduate education, and Sara Robinson, coordinator of student advising for the Global Engagement Office. They met with students virtually via Zoom over the summer then departed for Iceland for 10 days starting Aug. 23. Their study of Viking economics will continue during the first-year seminar course this semester. The students will also organize an on-campus presentation of their experiences.

“The idea is to create this cohort they can carry with them for the rest of the semester and their time at UW,” Robinson says.

The motivation for first-year seminars abroad came about by studying other universities with such programs. “The research shows that student outcomes are better,” Alexander says. “They graduate faster, they feel more engaged with their faculty, and they have better grades.”

group of people looking at raised beds of vegetables
Students learn about sustainability in Costa Rica with Associate Professor Patrick Johnson. He will take his first-year seminar students there this winter break. (Photo by Patrick Johnson)

Students who opted for the Costa Rica option will take two required courses as participants in the Sustainability in Action freshman interest group—a first-year seminar on Sustainability Challenges led by Patrick Johnson, associate professor of chemical engineering, and a Foundations of Sustainability course with Rachael Budowle, assistant lecturer in the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources and advisor to the group during the fall semester. Johnson will then lead the two-week trip over winter break that includes a visit to the sustainability-focused University of Georgia San Luis campus in Puntarenas and home stays for the students.

“Costa Rica is a good case study for sustainability at several levels,” says Johnson, who has led trips for upper-division students in the past. “It’s embedded in the culture, the politics and the way the government operates. They’re going toward 100 percent renewable energy for electricity generation. The college campus we visit is also striving to be carbon neutral, so it has a lot of sustainable practices that we can engage with while we’re there.”

Environmental systems science freshman Taylor Myers of Sheridan, Wyo., is one of the students who enrolled. “I am so excited that the university is offering short study abroad in different fields for new students,” she says. “I chose to apply because it aligned with what I want to study and work toward in the future. It will also provide insight into jobs in my field of study and help me decide if this is really the career for me. I’d love to take part in more study-abroad programs in my college career and see the world and how different countries deal with economic struggle and improve sustainability in their communities.”

Alexander says other departments on campus are interested in offering first-year seminars abroad in the future. These new offerings add to UW’s already impressive education-abroad programs and help the university meet its goal of providing high-impact learning experiences and internationalization.

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