2016 YSCC Fall Conference Recap

Yellowstone Studies Center Consortium (YSCC) Annual Fall Conference

Each year, we bring YSCC member professors together for a 3 day conference in West Yellowstone. The purpose of the Conference is threefold:

  1. To have member professors (and additional faculty they may bring whom haven’t been to the Park before) view the YSC facility and engage in a few Town and Park experiences- a tour of the Park, a trip to Earthquake Lake and Visitor Center and a visit to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. This allows professors and other faculty to evaluate and envision firsthand the experiential teaching and learning opportunities for themselves and their students
  2. To have them share curriculums, ideas, stories and experiences with each other
  3. To have them participate in discussions and contribute ideas, viewpoints and experiences for addressing issues and concerns and making improvements to the YSC Use and Services Program

Thursday Night Welcome Dinner

The Yellowstone Studies Center Consortium (YSCC) held its annual Fall Conference Oct. 20-22, 2016. At the Thursday night Welcome Dinner, we welcomed 6 professors from our YSCC alumni member schools and 6 new Consortium professors:

Charles Amlaner, D. Phil.
Vice President for Research
Dean of the Graduate College
Professor of Neuroscience and Behavior
Kennesaw State University
Kennesaw, GA

Doug Coe
Dean, College of Letters, Sciences & Professional Studies
Montana Tech
Butte, MT

Alysia Cox, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Environmental Chemistry
Dept. of Chemistry and Geochemistry
Montana Tech
Butte, MT

Terry Ownby, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Photo Media, Photo History and
Visual Culture
Dept. of Communication, Media and Persuasion
Idaho State University
Pocatello, ID

Robert Breshears
University of Central Missouri
School of Technology
Warrensburg, MO

Robert Pal
Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences
Montana Tech
Butte, MT

John L. Conant, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair, Dept. of Economics
Director, Center for Economic Education
Indiana State University
Terre Haute, IN

Charles R. Peterson, Ph. D.
Professor of Zoology, Dept. of Biological Sciences
Idaho State University
Pocatello, ID

Grant Hokit
Senior Research Associate and Professor of Biology
Dept. of Life and Environmental Science
Carroll College
Helena, MT

M. Todd Bradley, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Political Science
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
Dept. of Sociology, History and Political Science
Indiana University Kokomo
Kokomo, IN

Zachariah Mathew, Ph. D.
Associate Director
Center of Global Engagement
Indiana State University
Terre Haute, IN

Stella Capoccia
Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences
Montana Tech
Butte, MT

Friday's Professor Presentations

The Yellowstone Studies Center (YSC) hosted our day of special presentations by 4 of our professors. Professors were asked to speak on how they develop their various Yellowstone National Park experiential learning programs. We appreciate their contributions to this significant part of the Conference.

Dr. Charles Amlaner and Dr. John Conant- Land Use Controversies
Dr. Charles “Charlie” Amalaner and Dr. John Conant both discussed how an American Association of State Colleges and University (AASCU) program on the “Stewardship of Public Land” (part of the American Democracy Project) inspired the creation of a professional development course at their universities.

Charlie discussed some of Yellowstone’s major land use controversies and how those controversies relate to the courses he teaches in the Park. He went on to show examples of using local experts and advocates to explain both sides of the controversies.

John related his experiences of putting together an integrated social science field course at YNP. He discussed student recruitment strategies, learning objectives and reiterated the importance of using local experts and advocates in the field portion of the class. He went on further to say about the Conference, “Although I’ve been using YNP and YSC for the field portions of classes for years, it’s great to hear from other faculty who are doing similar courses to get ideas and to learn from their experiences in terms of what has been more successful and less successful for them.”

Dr. Alysia Cox- Research and Education in YNP
Alysia gave an energetic presentation on her research and student field classes on Hydrothermal Ecosystems and Environmental Chemistry. Her visuals showed her students in various research locations around the Park, and she discussed the challenges, rewards and results of organizing and teaching such classes.

Dr. Grant Hokit- Winter Ecology in Yellowstone
Grant gave a good step by step presentation 1) describing the logistical process of organizing a Yellowstone experience for a credit earning course, 2) explaining the integral role of the YSC in facilitating the course, and 3) utilizing the Park outside of the summer tourist season. Grant concluded by saying, “The upshot is that the YSC provides a safe and convenient facility to use as a center of operation for excursions into the Park and surrounding areas. Student’s benefit by having access to classrooms, wi-fi and comfortable areas to study. There are many human resources in the area to utilize including Park Service employees, other researchers and National Forest Service staff. Finally, we have access to the area during a season free of crowding and we help support the local economy.”

Friday’s Special Guest Presentations

We wanted to offer everyone additional presentations that were informative and highly visual. Our first special guest speaker showed us why Montana is a historic place to shake, rattle and roll. Our second guest speaker showed us why and how the eye, experience and equipment of the photographer plays an important role in the success of experiential educational programs.

Michael Stickney- Montana Earthquakes: Historic Seismicity and Seismic Hazard
As the Director of the Earthquake Studies Office of the MT Bureau of Mines and Geology on the campus of MT Tech in Butte, Michael brought decades of knowledge, experience and history to his presentation. He discussed geology and seismic activity in southwest Montana and showed us classic visuals of Montana earthquakes over the decades.

Chris Balmer- Photography’s Importance in Experiential Learning
Chris Balmer owns Perfect Light Camera and Supply in Idaho Falls, ID and hosts photography adventure workshops around the world. With his stunning and comparative photographic examples, he showed us that great photographs can be taken with relative ease, a little bit of knowledge and inexpensive equipment. Also, he explained why and how good photography enhances learning opportunities and experiences for classes in the field.

Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center

We concluded Friday with a visit to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center (GWDC). West Yellowstone is fortunate to have this premier, not-for-profit wildlife educational facility. It presents a unique opportunity for educators to bring classes here “to experience the world of grizzly bears, awe inspiring wolf pack dynamics and raptor exhibits.”

Saturday’s Park Tour of The Greatest Classroom on Earth

The highlight of the Conference is always our tour of the Park. The tour offers Conference professors coming to Yellowstone for the first time the opportunity to realize the superb and varied learning opportunities for them and their classes in the Greatest Classroom on Earth. Travel time, stops and hikes offer our Park guides and alumni professors the opportunity to share their vast Park knowledge, experiences and memories with the first timers.

It was a crisp and sunny Rocky Mountain day along the Lower Loop. On our way in, we talked about fire ecology, the 1988 fires and the just extinguished 75,000 acre Maple Fire, and then geology at Firehole Falls. On the windy boardwalk at Midway Geyser Basin, Chris Balmer shared his experience of photographing his iconic aerial image of Grand Prismatic Spring from a light wing aircraft.

We enjoyed lunch at Old Faithful and continued on over the Continental Divide to see Yellowstone Lake and the snow covered Absaroka Mountains. On the shores of the Lake, Stella had a close photographic encounter with a wily raven or two. Wildlife was largely absent through scenic Hayden Valley. We closed out our day with a bit of time at both the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone.

“We participated in an excellent trip to Yellowstone. We saw highlights of the Park and enjoyed exceptional guidance by experts to places that were really special and learned information that was highly valuable,” said Robert from MT Tech.

To Sum It All Up

Two of our first time participants from MT Tech summed up the Conference weekend in a great light:

Robert added to the above, “We did not just take part at a great conference loaded with recognized speakers and fantastic talks, but also became members of a professional and friendly team working hard on collecting and sharing knowledge about our first and most fascinating national park.”

Stella concluded, “Great starter conference, especially for those that don’t live near the park. Great way to generate educational ideas and local connections. It was a great group of people. I learned a lot from the informal conversations. Everyone was passionate about the trip and conference. The (YSC) group is clearly proud of their area and facilities. I love the idea that the Center is designed for indoor camping and inexpensive enough for educators to use for students. I will be using the facilities in the future!”