May Travelogue: Roanoke professors, students document learning adventures

Students explore Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado during the National Park System course.

Students explore Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado during the National Park System course.

Each May, Roanoke College students and professors take learning outside of the classroom and in some cases, across the world.

From exploring Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park to hiking 72 miles in Spain, students experienced true hands-on education and gained lifechanging memories to boot.

Here several professors and students reflect on last month's Intensive Learning adventures.


Course: National Park System
Professor(s): Chris Lassiter with Kody Rother
Location: New Mexico, Texas, Colorado
Method of travel: Air travel from Roanoke to Albuquerque, N.M., then 2,000-mile road trip in passenger vans
Number of students: 12

The National Park System is often called "America's Best Idea."  The National Park course studied the history of the U.S. park system as well as the biological, cultural and historical places that it protects. 

We journeyed on a 2,000-mile road trip that took us from the Chihuahuan Desert in Big Bend National Park in Texas to 700-feet high sand dunes and alpine forests in Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park. 

In New Mexico, we experienced the blinding landscape of White Sands National Monument, hiked around the rim of Capulin Volcano National Monument and went underground at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. 

Through the lens of history in New Mexico, we learned about the ancestral Puebloans at Bandelier National Monument's cliff dwellings and the American concept of manifest destiny at Fort Union National Monument on the Santa Fe Trail.

The class had many unique experiences along the way. We sledded at White Sands and at the Great Sand Dunes. We hiked to see hidden petroglyphs, or rock engravings, at Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument in New Mexico. 

At Big Bend, we sat in silence at the Window, which overlooks the desert landscape and hiked into a canyon that separates the United States from Mexico.    

We encountered pronghorn, rattlesnakes, tarantulas and even a vinegarroon. 

After visiting three states and 13 units of the National Park System, students returned home with a new appreciation of U.S. National Parks and the concept of learning while traveling.

-By Dr. Christopher Lassiter, associate professor of Biology

Course: Spain Pilgrimage
Professors: Lynn Talbot and Iris Myers
Location: Camino Portugués and Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Method of Travel: Air travel from Philadelphia to Madrid to Vigo, Spain. Walked to Santiago, then took the night train (with sleeping compartments) to Madrid and then flew home via Philadelphia
Number of students: 14

We started our course by backpacking 120 kilometers (72 miles) over six days on the Camino Portugués from Valença do Minho, Portugual to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, in the autonomous community of Galicia. Each day we walked between nine and 15 miles. We stayed in albergues, which are pilgrim hostels, ate pilgrim meals and met pilgrims from around the world.

Our hike took us through a variety of landscapes - along forest trails, over sections of Roman road and overlooking the rías (rivers which the ocean has invaded). Our arrival in Santiago was joyous as students had overcome sore feet, blisters, tendonitis and heavy backpacks. We collected our Compostelas certificates, which are awarded by the Pilgrim´s Office indicating that we walked at least 100 kilometers.

During the second two weeks, students studied Spanish language and culture at a language school in Santiago de Compostela and enjoyed homestays with Spanish families. The homestays gave students a chance to further practice their Spanish.

After class, students expanded their knowledge of pilgrimage through visits to the Cathedral, its museum and other museums related to pilgrimage. They also talked with pilgrims who had arrived in Santiago on one of the different routes. At one of the Pilgrim masses, students had a chance to see the Botafumeiro (a giant incense burner) fly, which was an impressive sight.

On the weekends, students enjoyed excursions to a number of nearby historic sites, including the Hercules Lighthouse built by the Romans, a dolmen (a prehistoric burial site), Celtic ruins, Finisterre (the end of the world in Roman times) and medieval fishing villages along the coast. These visits expanded students´ knowledge of Galician life and culture.

-By Dr. Lynn Talbot, professor of Spanish

Course: Keeping a Journal
Professor:  Katherine Hoffman
Location:  on campus and everywhere
Method of travel:  Feet, van, paper and pen
Number of students: 15

In May, 15 students and one professor embarked together on the adventure of keeping a private, reflective journal. As a group, we wrote constantly, not only in the classroom but outside of it.

We hiked to a hidden cemetery, climbed up to the college greenhouse, went down the Appalachian Trail and visited the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke. We hung about the cafes, streets and shops of downtown Roanoke and explored the old Roanoke County courthouse, including a glorious visit to its tower - all to see what kind of writing these places would draw out of us. 

We explored our past, present and future, and we chronicled the weather of Southwest Virginia, the places where we sat writing and our own minds.  We investigated our obsessions and plumbed our deepest thoughts.  We examined small, surface things, such as a veined leaf, a classmate's shoes, the itch of a mosquito bite and the place on the wall where a door used to be.  Then, we used our pens as shovels and dug deep into what's going on beneath the surface, into the geology of our lives.

We also traveled by reading. Samuel Pepys gave us a guided tour of 17th century London. Anne Frank showed us the banal terrors of life in hiding during World War II.  Anne Truitt let us into the mind and heart of an artist. The naturalist Edward Abbey shared his deep love of the desert and his rollicking life with us. 

Through student presentations, we lived through the Civil War from the thoughtful, partisan perspective of the Confederate diarist Mary Chesnut, saw the lovely garden and the terrible cycle from depression to healing with May Sarton and took a wild and colorful visual ride through Sabrina Ward Harrison's journal. Also, we learned, at, how to translate paper and pen to computer without compromising the reflective, private character of the true journal. 

We drew public papers and did research based on the experiences, obsessions and interests that informed our journals. We shared some of our writing every day and kept other parts of it dead secret. We traveled together, but each of us had a completely different journey. 

We returned from our voyage outwardly much the same as when we left.  But the world is more itself and our lives are more our lives than when we began. We have journeyed into the examined life, and it has given us ourselves.
-By Dr. Katherine Hoffman, professor of English

Course: Jesus in the Land of Israel
Professor: Gerald McDermott
Location: Israel
Method of travel: Air
Number of students: 9

We focused on the connections between Jesus' teachings and the land of Israel.  A secondary focus was Jesus' Jewish context. 
The class traveled around the northern half of Israel, from Caesarea on the Mediterranean in the West to Mt. Carmel and Megiddo through the Galilee and down the Jordan River Valley to Jerusalem. Students explored the historic sites of Sepphoris (where Jesus probably worked as a stone mason), Mt. Arbel, the Mount of Beatitudes, the Sea of Galilee, Caesarea Philippi, Bethany beyond the Jordan (where Jesus was probably baptized), Jericho, Qumran, Masada, the Temple Mount, the Western Wall Tunnels, the Garden of Gethsemane and many others. They swam in the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, and dipped their toes in the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea.

-By Dr. Gerald McDermott, Jordan Trexler Professor of Religion

Two Roanoke students who traveled with McDermott reflect on their time in Israel.

Katie Holland: The geographical sites we visited on this May Term helped me understand the teachings of Jesus, because they helped me understand him and his life: where he was born, lived, traveled, taught, worked, slept, died and ascended.

Personally, this class had a profound effect on my life. The opportunity to examine Jesus in the land of Israel was a truly indescribable experience. There is something naturally magnificent about studying a historical character's life within the context of the land where he lived. 

Furthermore, our class focused on the Jewish context of Jesus' life. The Holy Land represents an area of importance for all three monotheistic religions. It was incredible to experience and learn about the diversity, yet also the similarities, of the religions represented in the area. 

Most importantly, this class taught me a pertinent lesson in the realm of academia. While we strive to learn and discover fact within our world, we must understand the importance of faith. My favorite moment of the May Term was jumping off of a bridge at 2 a.m. into the middle of the Sea of Galilee. This was a feat I never would have imagined I would do, yet, with a little faith, I took the leap and realized the exhilarating freedom of jumping into the unknown.

Taylor Robertson: Words cannot describe how beautiful this small country is.  From the lush areas surrounding the Sea of Galilee, to the sweltering hot Dead Sea, to the majesty of the desert lands surrounding Jerusalem, this place leaves no choice for the traveler. She must be changed during her time there. I was academically stimulated in a way that encompassed my love of theology, history and my own spirituality.

Whether I was learning about the Jewish synagogu, or Jesus' teachings or the courageous mass suicide of Jewish rebels at Masada, my mind was always engaged. Dr. McDermott created a classroom environment in the middle of Israel that forced us to think critically and ask questions.

Released: June 20, 2013
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