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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Challenging the Status-Quo

So who would’ve thought that education could be so much fun, anti-establishment, and immersing all at once? The people at Prescott College, that’s who. I am now enrolled in my second semester at this school and am enjoying classes in Peace Studies and Image, Power, and Mass Culture. In Peace Studies we are learning about the effects that war has on society, as well as the peaceful non-violent movements that have accompanied most every war for the last 900+ years. From the Roman Empire to the revolutionary wars that came after the Industrial Revolution to the present day, conscientious objectors have used nonviolent methods to express pro-peace sentiments. The class ties in really well with my Image, Power, and Mass culture class because at the same time we are learning the influence that the mass media has on society and how it is used to push the agendas/spin the war crimes of the corporations involved in the ownership of these media outlets. Nothing about these classes tries to uphold the status-quo. They instead try to get students to look at alternative ways of thinking that may contradict former worldviews gained through education in a state-sponsored school system. The dialogue that grows from these lessons has the ability to change people, lives, and world views. Every day I look forward to the challenge or discussion that will arise out of a single class, and wonder what new ideas it will spark within myself or fellow class mates.

Regarding Puppies and Kittens

My first year at Prescott College was spent in the student housing situation located directly across Butte Creek from the college, the Agave House. That was probably one of the hardest times of my life. Not socially or academically, I was loving all my classes and all the new friends I was making. Rather, my life was missing something else, something that normally clung to my thick fleece jackets back home in New Hampshire, and occasionally made others around me sneeze.

Fur! Of course! I spent all year in increasingly depressing pet withdrawal, without any snugly animals to make my fleeces into allergy magnets. I missed my dog, Cody, my cats, Mya, Sabbath, Gus, and Cosy, and my rats who I had to give to a friend when I left for college, though I still think they would have been fine hanging out in the dorms. Of course, the college recommends not bringing pets with you your first semester, given that you'll be out on orientation for three weeks, which makes a lot of sense.

I was lucky that this is a school where the vast majority of students live off campus, where they're allowed to have pets. I only survived my first year by obsessively saying hello to every single dog or cat I passed by on the street. The decision to rent a house with a few friends my second year of school turned out to be a fantastic one, for now we could own PETS!

The first fluffy resident of our household was Mr. Whiskers, a Manx (tail-less) cat whose owners were moving away to the west coast and couldn't take him with them. It's a good thing he showed up, too, for any longer without a critter running around and I would have dyed my hair black and started wearing death metal t-shirts (but not really). Suddenly, life was an adventure. Would my shoelaces be viciously attacked upon my return home today? Who knows!

Mr. Whiskers stayed with us until this past summer, when he went with us on a road trip across the country; seeing such exotic places as New Mexico, Texas, Texas at night, Texas the next morning, New Orleans, Georgia, and South Carolina. He now lives in a little house on the coast of South Carolina, with all the fresh seafood he could wish for.

Our next furry friend started her life with us this summer, when she was adopted by my parents after being abandoned in a house in Tennessee, found by a rescue organization, and brought to Massachusetts to be adopted. Suki, a Siberian husky mix with heterochromia (different colored eyes), ended up being a bit too high-energy for my parents, and was handed down to my partner and I. She got to enjoy a road-trip with us as well, this time heading westward.

Now, of course, our house had a dog but times during the day where she had no one to play with. Whatever were we to do? Apparently, the answer to that question was at the humane society. Kittens! But wait, they have an adopt one, get one free day today! Oh, oh no.

Two weeks later, I am awakened every morning to the pitter-patter of kitten feet in the hallway (aren't they supposed to be stealthy?), and the occasional *THUMP* as one of them runs into our door. This wakes Suki up, of course, and then she stands at attention like Doug from Pixar's "Up," pointing at brightly colored birds. I don't mind, though. I rather like being roused by furry things than a screeching alarm clock or my partner waking me up because I forgot to set the alarm again.

The great thing about the college is that many people around here have the same love of animals that we do, so it's usually quite easy to find a dog or cat-sitter right in the local community when you go out in the field.

Prescott College: "For the Liberal Arts, The Environment, Social Justice, and Furry Friends

Multi-pitch on Granite Mountain

Finding money to purchase a full rack of climbing gear is difficult when you're in college. This is a problem I've been grappling with for the last year or so, ever since my Introduction to Rock Climbing class, when I got a taste of trad climbing. For those less familiar with climbing lingo, "trad" consists of placing your own protection as you climb, rather than relying on pre-drilled bolts. The benefit of learning about these things in an institutional setting like Prescott College is that you don't have to shell out tons of funds to get life experience. The same could be said for any of the areas classes are offered in, be it fire ecology or sea kayaking, but I digress. For someone that appreciates the art of climbing, and the expensive gear that makes the activity safer, our gear warehouse is a paradise. To me, standing on the second floor of the warehouse and staring at the hundreds of cams, hexes, stoppers, carabiners, and ropes lining the walls makes me feel a bit closer to achieving nirvana.

And then there's the first day of a field course, where you get to actually touch the gear and make sure it's all accounted for. A magical day, sort of like a birthday, but only if you usually have your birthday in a warehouse full of everything you ever wanted.

I may be a bit of a gear head, but hey, there are worse things I suppose.

Through my Intermediate Rock Climbing class this weekend I had my second experience lead-climbing and my first leading on Granite Mountain, arguably the most classic trad climbing in the area. We spent our day climbing on a smaller side-section of the mountain, what is referred to as the "Swamp Slabs," since the main face is hundreds of feet high and a bit of a stretch for some of our skill sets. My group started it off slow with the two-pitch climb referred to as "Beginner." The climb itself is relatively mellow, but climbs always feel like a bit more of a head-game when you know your life is possibly dependent on each piece of gear you place. I made it up the first pitch with relative ease, though one section in the middle made me feel a bit insecure, as I had trouble finding gear placement for a good twenty feet or so. Most of the climbs on the Swamp Slabs top out next to an old alligator juniper tree, who has somehow managed to nourish itself in a very limited amount of soil on an exposed rock face and still manged to grow relatively large. My partner and I made our way along the side of the face from the tree, careful not to twist any ankles, and ate some lunch back at the base of the climbs.

Our next project was a slightly more difficult climb called "Debut," which was far more vertical, and had one slightly overhanging section to deal with. I led the first pitch, and even over the wind I could hear my breathing exploding out of my chest when I exhaled. The climb itself is by no means challenging in the technical sense, there is plenty of protection on the way up, but just the feeling of being a little more vertical was enough to push my boundaries. I remember one moment during the easiest, least inclined section of the climb, when I stopped for a moment to take stock of my situation and realizing that my last piece was so far down I had a good chance of "hitting the deck (ground)," if I messed up. I don't think I've ever placed a piece as quickly or as solidly as I did after that realization. Despite the occasional fright, I have really come to enjoy the trad climbing experience through this school. I know that next week I'll be even more excited to challenge myself to do more challenging climbs, and maybe one day I'll be able to go out and do this on my own.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Community Lunch

As a brand new PC student I am discovering all kinds of new and exciting things about the college – one is Community Lunch. Community Lunch happens every Wednesday at the Crossroads Center from 12:30 to 1:30. It's a great time to make any kind of announcement you might have involving the College community or the greater Prescott community. The best part is it's free and delicious. All the food is made by the Crossroads Cafe here on campus, which never ceases to impress. On top of being super tummy satisfying Community Lunch is a great time to meet up with professors and faculty about questions you may have, or just to sit and chat. I invite anyone who might be interested in knowing what the school's all about to stop by and experience a true sense of community, and the exciting energy that circulates through this campus so fluidly, an energy I like to call the Prescott Buzz. One of the Wednesday's I was at community lunch, I ran into one of my friends from orientation. It had been two weeks since orientation had ended and I hadn't seen him at all. We talked for quite some time about classes and life at Prescott post-orientation. He told me that he had been going to a new place every day to experience all the different beautiful natural wonders Prescott has to offer. It's encounters and inspiring stories like my friend’s that make community lunch such a wonderful Prescott activity and tradition.

-Colton Coburn-Wood

My name is Sydnie, and I’m an Allen-oholic (Hello Sydnie).

My name is Sydnie, and I’m an Allen-oholic (Hello Sydnie). I don’t think its weird that I look to Woody Allen to inspire the answers to life’s little conundrums. In fact, I’m a fan of deadpan humor and heavy doses of cynicism and sarcasm. I really think if some company came out with a magic eight ball or some other kind of fortune telling/advice giving object that themed itself around Woody Allen, it would be a hit. Ask Woody Allen. I really just appreciate the honesty behind a man who isn’t afraid to sound ridiculous.
This isn’t to say that I would model my life after his, or that I even agree with everything the man does or talks about…He isn’t my role model. But I think it is safe to say that I have a profound amount of respect for someone who is not afraid to test their own boundaries, and discover something about themselves in the process. For a while I thought that I needed to “play it safe” and put my immediate happiness on the backburner for a chance to *maybe* be happy in the long run. It was Woody Allen who said “You can live to be 100…if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be 100.”. If that’s the case, I’d prefer not to waste away my youth “playing it safe”. I want to be jumping out of airplanes when I’m 75; I’m not about to give up my plan to squeeze every drop of adventure out of my life. I enjoy being spunky, thank you very much. This is why I choose to be a Prescott College student.

If I had gone the UC-way, like my mother and I had planned since the sandbox, I probably wouldn’t have the same rights as I do at Prescott College. Here, I am Sydnie Bonin, free-thinker—there, I would have been Student X000T935NTNS049975195 (or whatever). My rights at PC extend past those issued to me by government mandate. I have the opportunity to challenge the curriculum, exercise my opinions, and create a competence based on whatever I choose. Here, I am not a number and I don’t have to “play it safe”. You don’t tailor yourself to Prescott College—it tailors itself to you.
Whether my classes are in the field, or inside a classroom, I am given the chance to contribute and participate fully in the learning process, weaving in hands-on experience and self-direction into every aspect of the course. There is room at Prescott College to spread your wings. Everyday, I am challenged to create new ideas and run with them. I enjoy “geeking out”—both in-class and out-of-class assignments at PC are actually fun….homework doesn’t seem like work-- studying is learning. My family laughs at me when I talk about Prescott College. “To think…If you hadn’t gone to that career fair! You’d be sitting in a giant lecture hall somewhere…probably taking a nap!”
It is my second year in Prescott…and I am still loving every minute of it. Sure, my competence changes with every new class I take, but I like it that way. I still have time to figure out what I want to do. For now, I’m treating every single class like its own adventure. And if I end up living to be 100, I will still be the same Sydnie—the only difference? I will have 100 years of experiences and adventures under my belt...and I’ll still be packing up for the next big one.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Is this school hard?

I’ve given a fair number of student tours in the past year and a half or so. After hearing about our experiential learning philosophy and the classes our students take – Backcountry Skiing & Winter Ecology, Environmental Perspectives & Whitewater Rafting, Rock Climbing & Geology, Dance & Improvisation – Common questions, usually from parents are: is this school academically rigorous or when do you study??

Having been at PC for a while, these questions are reminders for me to put myself in the shoes of someone outside of this small educational community. To most people’s mainstream educational experience (my Midwestern Public school experience included) Prescott College’s way of learning must seem slightly odd, intriguingly adventuresome, or utterly rational. Why of course we study! This school IS rigorous!! For me, and many of my fellow students, PC is and has been a pretty darn challenging experience – for handfuls and handfuls of reasons.

As a transfer student, I am fortunate to have an academic experience to compare with Prescott College. For perspective, at my last school (a university with 20,000+ students) a challenge was:
-sitting through a 2 ½ hour lecture with 40 other students, in a room too large for our professor’s delicate voice, about events leading up to the Irish Rebellion of 1919: Midterm next week, 3 essay questions and 40 multiple choice.
-vying for time against 30 other students for help on math homework from our T.A., before being forced to leave the math lab for another class to come in.
-learning about Environmental Science in a windowless classroom on the 8th floor in the downtown of a big city.
-Sitting in the front at each class, answering questions and discussing, only to find out that my professor (and advisor!) still doesn’t know my name at the end of the semester.
-Deciding what classes to take with no advising past the first semester, then signing up for them in an electronic rat-race.

What makes Prescott College challenging?
-Self-Direction is emphasized. While there are great advisors to encourage you, tons of classes and classmates to inspire you, and a library full of knowledge to beckon you – it all comes down to the fact that your experience is what YOU make of it.
-Most students spend a minimum of 13 ½ hours in classes each week… that’s not including outside field trips, or time spent on homework. A normal course load is 3 classes during the semester. Many students have jobs as well. A semester at PC is time management 101.
-During Block, most students are in class, all day, every day, for a month straight. For example, after an 8-hour day of rafting down the Green River in Utah, we set up camp, unload gear, do our daily chores, then sit down under a giant cottonwood to write a natural history journal, daily river/rapid log, answer study questions on geology of Desolation Canyon, then circle up after dinner to discuss readings, share ecological observations, and debrief the day.
-All courses have an academic component – even if the class is primarily skill building, such as Introduction to Rock Climbing. This generally takes the form of readings, reflection writing, discussion, group work, presentation sharing, essay writing, and portfolio-keeping. A Writing Emphasis class will have you writing short essays weekly, and include one or two longer, peer-reviewed research papers.
-Creating an independent study – from the ground up, all based on what you want to learn, an activity, internship, or other experience, and putting it into an academic context.
-All students will apply knowledge and skills learned throughout their time at PC and incorporate them into a Senior Project of their own making.

Basically, the way we do things here are a little different than the mainstream. We think that education should be experiential – that the best way to learn is by doing. This brings on inherently different challenges than one would find at a more mainstream academic setting – but nonetheless rigorous! Many say we’re the Harvard of the West!

<.....One of our geology "classrooms"

Pilgrimage to Big Mama Juniper

This story begins a few months ago, in Tuftonburo, NH.

I was working at a camp as the rock climbing/adventure education coordinator, and a former Prescott College graduate, Randy, happened to be working there as well. Late one night during staff training, he popped into my room as I was killing time on Google Earth, saying he had something to show me. He grabbed a chair and spun the globe on my laptop to Prescott, Arizona, and zoomed into the north side of town near Granite Mountain.
"The largest alligator juniper in the world lives outside of Prescott. Right here," he said, pointing to the convergence of two dry creek beds in the hills.
"You have to go there sometime before you graduate. I wish I had gone back more than once."

I wasn't sure exactly how to get to this spot, but Randy's enthusiasm inspired me to check it out when I arrived back in Prescott. After all, I thought, what better way to spend time off than seeing a magnificent old tree?

I asked many people about the tree upon my return to town and a few people knew the spot, but what I found out is that many people who know about the tree follow a strict rule of not revealing the location unless they personally bring someone there. I thought it was a pretty neat rule, hopefully it meant that the site hadn't been impacted tremendously by human presence. I was not, however, going to give up on finding someone who would at least give me a general idea of how to find this tree.

Two weeks ago I started working here at admissions and one of my co-workers was kind enough to provide me with a hand-drawn map of a route to the tree. After that, it was simply a matter of setting aside time for the expedition.

Eight of us (seven people, one dog) left on a cloudy Monday morning, carpooling in two cars each with about six inches of clearance, which became important very quickly. As soon as we turned off the maintained dirt road, it was apparent that our trek would have been made easier by simply parking the cars and walking a bit further. This pot-hole ridden dirt trench didn't really allow for us to turn around, however, so we pressed on. A mile of bumping and scraping later, all but the driver piled out of our vehicle to avoid tearing off all the essential components of the car. Half a mile from where we were supposed to park we came to what the map labeled as a "hill," but with this car's clearance it might as well have been a drawing of the grim reaper, mangled car parts hanging from his scythe. Luckily, there was a place to park below the hill of death, so we decided to cut our losses and continue on foot.

The hike along the road, and along the creek bed, was spectacular. Between the large crags of granite erupting out of the landscape we were greeted with the sight of an abundance of life. Alligator junipers, mountain mahogany, a plethora of oaks, as well as many cactus species, were there at every bend. The view of Granite Mountain was beautiful, like some sort of ancient but friendly behemoth on the horizon. We came around the top of a small hill, and there was the Big Mama Juniper. Unmistakably large, it didn't even seem possible that an organism could tower that far over all of it's neighbors. We crept along in silence and reverence as we approached the tree, in awe of its beauty and ability to thrive in such a place. There were no words, and it was impossible to fit in the frame of our cameras, though we certainly tried.

Many of us interacted with the tree in the way our ancestors would have, we climbed. It was the only way to really engage all the senses in this wonder of nature. From up above, you could see all the area around the tree that was influenced by its presence. I observed that nothing bigger than a shrub had grown alongside this one's great roots in a long time. I imagined what sorts of catastrophes this creature must have experienced in its lifetime; flash floods, fires, earthquakes, lightning, and humans. Trying to fathom that sort of lifespan hurt my head, so I decided to simply feel the tree beneath me and let it speak for itself.

After a few hours, we said our regretful goodbyes to the tree, and hiked back to the cars. I remeber looking back many times before we dropped back over the hill, wishing I could stay longer.

I know now why Randy suggested I make a point to travel to this old tree. You could spend years there, listening to the stories it has to tell. I hope that in my last two years here at Prescott College, I can at least give it a few days of my time to be listened to and enjoyed.

Zach Schiewetz.