JSCNHM home • Spring 2011 • vol. 4 no. 1

Student Testimonials

By Sara Schwartz Kendall & Katherine Coppolla

Sierra College students

Editor’s note: Perhaps it sounds cliché but teachers really are here for the students. Every decision that we make as professors is motivated by how we can improve student learning but student learning is something that should continue beyond the classroom experience. After our students leave our classroom, they should be better critical thinkers and they should feel as though their experience has given them something to enrich their lives. Student success is truly something that can only be measured by the student.

I am a continuing student who chose to attend Sierra College specifically for its field trip classes. I have a "complete" education, but it is one which never taught me about our natural world, which I find to be a terrible omission. In my career I found work teaching outdoor education, and quickly realized that I needed to learn the most important thing a member of this planet can know: how our world works.

Wild flowers

I have taken some traditional classes at Sierra College, but really have learned the most about biology, geology, and geography by going out into the field, by touching the rocks, lying on my belly to see how the flowers work, and seeing my first (and so far only) whale, tidepool, and nursing harbor seals. I have had at least two stunning learning moments on my field trips. One was with Dennis Fox on a beach at Pt. Reyes, looking at a big wall of earth, and finally "getting" how the geological layers formed and sections shifted over time, and why. It was like an earthquake in my brain. The second was looking at wildflowers on Table Mountain with Shawna Martinez: really seeing how many parts of a flower there are and how they facilitate their pollination and germination.

I also have benefited from a photography field trip to Mono Lake, which taught me not only how to use my camera correctly, but to see much more clearly the world around me. After completing each Sierra College field trip, I see my own world differently and more clearly, and I share my increasing knowledge with participants of the trips that I lead and the classes that I teach. Field trips are the best way I know to become excited about an academic field, and to learn deeply and well about our natural world in its many manifestations.

— Sara Schwartz Kendall

The ability to choose field courses at Sierra College was actually a huge influence in my choosing Sierra College over the campus’ that are part of the Los Rios Community College System. When I read about the opportunities available, I knew right then and there that Sierra was the school to be in if I wanted to gain real, hands-on experience. I learn a lot in my classes, but after two or three months stuck at a desk during the day and sitting on my couch at home at night doing homework for hours, it is absolutely blissful to be able to go somewhere exciting, beautiful, and educational for a weekend or even a day.

No description in a book could ever explain some of the amazing natural phenomena I have seen on these field courses. As someone who wants to go into the field of ecology and work outside, the experience I get making observations and keeping a field journal is not easily done outside of the courses. These courses are hugely beneficial and important learning experiences.

— Katherine Coppolla

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