Taking education outdoors
Week-long field study course connects EOU faculty, students to community
July 12, 2018 LA GRANDE, Ore. – Eastern Oregon University’s newest summer institute engages high school students from across the region while building interagency partnerships to improve a state park along the John Day River.
Cottonwood Crossing Summer Institute (CCSI) features instructors from EOU, Oregon State Parks and Arlington High School, who led five project teams for students to choose from. The distinct curriculum tracks allowed students to focus on botany, biology, creative writing, solar engineering, or exercise physiology.
Two dozen high school students registered to camp, cook and learn at Cottonwood Canyon State Park for the week of hands-on science and outdoor activities. EOU’s Outdoor Adventure Program Coordinator joined the group for a day-long float down the river they’d been studying.
“If you’re thinking it’s boring to learn the week after school gets out then you’re wrong because this camp is totally worth the experience,” one participant said.
Since 2015, CCSI has offered students an opportunity to work with regional professionals to conduct research and complete projects related to the natural and cultural resources of Eastern Oregon. They earn college-level science credit for participation, and working teachers can also attend to earn ongoing learning credits while expanding their own knowledge and curriculums.
The park unveiled its new Experience Center just in time for CCSI students to fill it with the bustling energy of their work and play. After several years of fundraising, the Oregon Parks Foundation constructed the indoor/outdoor classroom space this spring.
Students and instructors, some of whom are EOU upperclassmen working on capstone projects, also accomplished a number of lasting contributions to the park and its visitors. They compiled a list of macroinvertebrate species living in the John Day River, installed three solar charging stations, and composed essays that connect the people and place of Cottonwood Canyon State Park.
Participants hailed from Arlington, Bend, Boardman, Cove, Grand Ronde, La Grande, Pendleton, Portland, Salem, Sixes and Stanfield in Oregon, plus La Center, Wash., and New Plymouth, Idaho.
CCSI leader Julie Keniry said participants come away from this experience not only with a science credit from EOU but also with a sense of belonging.
“Working together in small groups, the students often discover a side of themselves that they didn’t know existed,” Keniry said. “They are so outgoing and capable of accomplishing so much in a short amount of time.”
Participants echoed Keniry’s sentiments, calling CCSI, “a fun experience where you don’t even realize you’re learning,” and, “the best way to start summer.” One participant said they’re, “less afraid of trying new things,” after a week in the wild.
In just six days, these 24 students and their instructors from around the Pacific Northwest helped develop one of Eastern Oregon’s state parks, strengthened partnerships between institutions and individuals, and discovered new strengths in themselves that will serve them in the classroom and in the world.