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SEED Semester Offers Local, On-Site Outdoor Experience For Students

For some students, the mundane lectures in the Thomas Building and the repetitive schedule of being a young college student grow old quickly. Day-to-day life varies little throughout the week, making students yearn for the weekend when they can finally break out of their apartments and classrooms and get outside.

But there’s an alternative to weekly doldrums made for students in search of fresh air and a break from the comfort of routine. Penn State’s SEED Semester program (Students Engaging in Experiential Discovery) provides students with an opportunity to step away from campus for the semester and engage in nature while still earning 18 credits for their work.

Offered 20 minutes from campus at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, SEED is a part of the curriculum for the university’s Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management (RPTM) program and is connected specifically to the Park Management and Environmental Interpretation (PMEI) track. Elementary, agricultural, and science education as well as environmental resource management are other popular majors among SEED students.

The program, which began in 1976, was recently accredited by the North American Association for Environmental Education for engaging students in development to be environmental educators. Penn State is one of 10 colleges to join the list, accompanied by other schools like Colorado College, Eastern Kentucky University, and Southern Oregon University.

There is no “typical” day in the life of a student attending a SEED semester, and their schedule changes daily. Laurie McLaughlin, SEED semester coordinator, said that this variability makes makes the program unique.

“What a day looks like here for students is they are at Shaver’s Creek from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or even later into the evening sometimes, but every class is offered at a different time,” she said. “For instance, tomorrow, a class is from 10 a.m. to noon, but the next day it could be offered from 8 to 10 a.m.”

Photo: Shaver’s Creek SEED Semester

The flexibility in students’ schedules allows for continuous engagement in and interaction with the outdoors. They do spend some time in a classroom setting but are frequently outdoors doing field walks as well as learning how to facilitate programs and interact with visitors.

Students also have the opportunity during this semester to take a trip to New England for 10 days to explore the outdoors in a different setting. The trip takes place at the beginning of the semester and provides a bonding experience for students and instructors.

“Students are visiting different sites throughout New England that we have developed relationships with that are really high quality, environmental education, and outdoor education sites,” McLaughlin said. “We spend time in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and others. Many of our students have never even been to these states”.

McLaughlin emphasized the importance of hands-on, on-site experience for students interested in environmentalism and conservation.

“I think their favorite part is that they get a lot of engaging hands on learning,” she said. “The 6 classes that they’re taking, every single one has content, but they are always connecting that content to an experience. It’s really exciting. There’s content, but this content is being taught outside.”

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About the Author

Ryen Gailey

Ryen is a senior early childhood education major from "right outside of Philly" - or in exact words, from 23.0 miles outside of Philly. She loves all things Penn State and has been a huge Penn State gal since before she could walk. Send her pictures of puppies, or hate mail at [email protected]

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