- Prepared for the 7th Biennial Conference on University Education in Natural Resources, March 13 -15, 2008, Oregon State University.
- This paper assesses the promises and challenges associated with developing, conducting, and funding a rigorous, interdisciplinary, graduate field course with a strong experiential learning foundation. The course, Communities and Natural Resources, is designed to provide students from diverse backgrounds with an interdisciplinary, experiential learning opportunity. While the authors handle course logistics and provide students with relevant theoretical foundations from several disciplines, the actual instructors are county commissioners, health and education professionals, natural resource managers, ranchers, forest owners, tribal resource specialists, and other community leaders.
Course objectives include;
1. To learn first hand from community leaders about current conditions and future prospects for rural, natural-resource - dependent communities.
2. To become familiar with the social science concepts of poverty, natural resource dependency, community well-being; social, human, economic and natural capital, land tenure, and sustainability.
3. To sharpen empathetic listening, analytical thinking, and effective communication skills.
4. To foster constructive dialogue between the university and rural communities.
The course has been offered for the past three years, involving students from forestry, anthropology, public policy, public health, agricultural economics, and other disciplines. In this paper we reflect on the experience of these past three years from the perspectives of students, community participants, and academic faculty. We consider what values such a course might contribute to graduate education and to university – community relations, what pitfalls might be encountered, and how the challenge of funding such a course might be addressed. A panel of student and community participants will share their perspectives on this mode of graduate education.