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360° Fall Field Experience Sends Students to Glaciers, Vineyards, and Volcanoes

February 22, 2024

Over Fall Break in 2023, three groups of students took off on adventures to learn about the world outside the classroom. One group studied visual and historical culture in the south of France, while another traveled to Nicaragua to learn about the importance of language and geology in the development of society. The third group took a transnational flight to Alaska to learn about how extracting resources from the land had impacts on all aspects of life, from tourism to ecology. Although they all went to different places and studied a variety of topics, these students were all part of Bryn Mawr’s 360° Program, a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to learning that connects big ideas across divergent areas of study.


Transplants connected three disciplines— comparative literature, French, and botany— to study how plants and people change each other across time and space. The cluster, helmed by Shiamin Kwa, Jonathan Wilson, and Agnès Peysson-Zeiss, aimed to explore the evolutions of the “Old and New Worlds” and their connections to each other. In order to gain a more complex understanding of this connection, the cluster traveled to the Bordeaux region of France to study papermaking and viticulture, or the cultivation process of grapes for winemaking.

To see the connection between the people and the land they occupied was a profound experience for one student.

“I learned firsthand about terroir, the connection between wine products and land, matching the scientific knowledge from Botany to what I was tasting while getting a feel for the viticulture that has long been central to France’s economy, colonization project, and culture,” Gwen Rewoldt ‘26 said.

Aside from viticulture, the Transplants cluster also learned about the importance of literature in the study and recording of history. In Angoulême, the cluster went to Le Musée de la Bande Dessinée and La Maison des Auteurs to explore how comic books can reveal “hidden histories” differently than photographic documentation. The museum visits challenged students to see history through the eyes of artists and writers and examine the alternative perspectives they can provide.

Nicaragua: Places and Names

Across the world in Nicaragua, the Nicaragua: Places and Names cluster traveled to Granada to explore the role of language and landscape on the development of Nicaragua, guided by Professors Pedro Marenco (Geology) and Brook Lillehaugen (Linguistics). As part of their fieldwork, students had a chance to interact with and learn from indigenous groups.

“Indigenous populations are often portrayed as relics of the past; our visit to Nicaragua shattered this misconception, allowing us to interact with these individuals and even learn their language—an inexplicable experience,” Jean Rojas Nuñez ‘26 shared.

The cluster traveled to Otempete Island to learn how to make traditional meals with cooking lessons from indigenous women. As well as learning about the country’s rich anthropologic history, the cluster also had the opportunity to visit four volcanoes, many of which are still active. In exploring these volcanoes, the cluster was able to understand both their geological importance and the human health risks they pose.

Energy Afterlives

Back in the U.S., the Energy Afterlives cluster explored the impact that extracting energy sources like coal, oil, and natural gas has on communities through the lenses of literature, politics, and earth sciences. In order to do this, students took courses in Russian with Professor Jose Vargas, Political Science with Professor Joel Schlosser, and Geology with Professor Selby Hearth. In Sitka, Alaska, the cluster made samples of microplastics at Halibut Point to explore the effects of human pollution on nature. They also examined the role of tourism in Alaska while hiking in Sitka National Historic Park, learning about how energy extraction can boost tourism but have severe impacts on the land and local communities. After Sitka, the group traveled to Juneau, where they studied even more microplastics at the famous Mendenhall Glacier. The cluster learned that global warming was causing pollution to increase significantly in the water in Alaska and making the glaciers melt at an alarming rate. Along with environmental impacts, the cluster also learned about the community impacts that extraction projects had, especially for indigenous populations. However, the students were also able to hear from political activists about how they were working to preserve Alaska’s great history.

“You could feel the power of the place during our trip. The community members we spoke to are not only preserving culture like the Tlingit language but actively working to highlight history that has been buried by new developments,” Sarah Elizabeth Fernandez ‘26, a cluster liaison, said. 

The exhibitions created by the Energy Afterlives students will remain open to the public through May 2024. Stop by the Dalton Hall first-floor atrium, the Park Science main lobby, and the Russian House conference room to learn more. 

Follow @bmc360program on Instagram to keep up with this semester’s cluster adventures as they explore Coasts in Transition, Europe from the Margins, and Origins of Freedom.

360° Program