Desert Odyssey: Integrating Geology, Biology & Native American History & Culture in a Field-Intensive Program

Friday 3:00pm-4:00pm Student Union: Ballroom B
Poster Session Part of Friday Session

Session Chairs

Ben Fackler-Adams, Skagit Valley College
Cliff Palmer, Skagit Valley College
Charles Luckmann, Skagit Valley College
In Spring 2015, Skagit Valley College offered Desert Odyssey, a 15-credit learning community integrating geology, biology and Native American history, including a 3-week field program exploring interconnections among landscapes, ecosystems and human experience in the Southwest. Students learned how geologic and biological systems influenced past and present Southwest Native American cultures.
Five weeks preceding the field program focused on (1) basic geological tools of petrography and stratigraphy; (2) biological fundamentals including evolution and phylogeny, organismal form and function, and ecosystems; (3) Puebloan and Navajo history and culture, especially storytelling and oral history, basic language training in Diné bizaad (Navajo); and (4) the legacy of the energy industry and the unique political and environmental situation of the Big Mountain Navajo. Students used these foundational studies to develop both group and individual research questions integrating the three disciplines.
In the field, students applied these tools as we explored diverse landscapes and spent time with Navajo families at Big Mountain where we assisted subsistence activities, including sheep herding, collecting water and firewood, butchering, and road and fence repairs. Students work was making inter-disciplinary connections among what they were seeing in the rocks, organisms, and Pueblo and Navajo culture. Their learning was facilitated by lectures from faculty and regional professionals/experts, a detailed field guide and nightly discussions.
Upon returning, students developed posters summarizing the results of their group and individual research projects which were shared with the college community. Student research projects and responses to summative assessments and a reflective "Critical Incident Questionnaire" revealed that they gained significant insights about (1) deep time and the evolution of geologic and biological systems; (2) challenges, poverty and connection to the land in modern Navajo communities; and (3) the significant way that changes in the past at both geological and cultural time-scales effect what is happening today.

Presentation Media

Desert Odyssey (Acrobat (PDF) 46.1MB Jul27 17)