RIO GRANDE — The University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College works to find new ways to create a hands-on learning environment to enhance quality education.
Professor of History Dr. Sam Wilson has taken this idea a step further by giving students the opportunity to help design the curriculum for one of his courses. Wilson said the History Travel Seminar class is unique because the entire semester revolves around the trip students choose at the beginning of the semester. This semester, the students chose to visit the Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, Pa.
“The students decide where they want to go, and then we construct the class around the location. This gives them ownership and involvement in the learning process,” Wilson said. “Researching the battle for the majority of the semester, and then going there to walk the battlefield is a great educational opportunity for them because it’s a chance to live history rather than just read about it. Travel is an important part of education that has a life-changing impact. I always enjoy seeing how excited they are throughout the semester about the trip.”
While the Battle of Gettysburg is considered a turning point of the Civil War as a Union victory, the three-day battle also had the war’s largest number of casualties. As part of the curriculum, students are assigned a soldier from the battle to research throughout the semester. The students then give presentations about their soldiers’ lives and role at the battlefield where they fought. Chris Davis, a senior history major, said the research helped bring the past to life during their tour.
“It was inspiring to get to go and visit this battlefield after studying it for three months. Walking across the battlefield, possibly in the footsteps of the soldiers who fought and died there was very awe-inspiring,” Davis said. “I really enjoyed researching the soldier I was assigned, because it gave us the opportunity to walk in their shoes. My soldier actually survived the war and went on to write a book about it. College is an enlightening time to travel and expand your knowledge of the world and it’s history. I’m glad Rio’s history program offers this class because it’s a great experience.”
The History Travel Seminar course is offered each spring, and past classes have traveled to historic locations such as Antietam National Battlefield and Monticello. Shannon Scott, a senior history major, said he believes trips like this offer the students a hands-on learning experience and a better understanding of places and events covered in the classroom.
“This was an awesome experience. I’ve always wanted to go to Gettysburg and I was astonished at how big the battlefield really was. It’s something you don’t realize just by looking at maps. Researching our soldiers was very interesting and challenging. With my soldier, I was able to find some information on others in his infantry regiment which helped give me a view of what was going on around him as well,” Scott said. “I think anyone who has the chance to travel to historic places like this should take the opportunity. It’s so important to learn about different places and history’s impact on our lives today.”
For more information on the history program at Rio, contact Sam Wilson at email@example.com or 740-245-7374.
Jessica Patterson is a communications specialist with the University of Rio Grande.