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UMW Students Explore Yellowstone Park

December 31, 2019

Students from the University of Montana Western’s Environmental Sciences Department spent a week exploring Yellowstone National Park as part of an environmental interpretation course taught by Assistant Professor of Environmental Sustainability, Dr. Arica Crootof.

Park Ranger gives presentation at Yellowstone

During this immersive course, students traveled to Gardiner, Mont. this fall, where they spent the week learning and interacting with professionals from Yellowstone Forever.

Yellowstone Forever is the official nonprofit partner of Yellowstone National Park and its mission of “engagement and support through philanthropy and education for the park will ensure Yellowstone remains for generations to come.” This was the first time that Yellowstone Forever has partnered with UMW for this course.

In this class, students defined, described, and expanded “interpretation” as a communication process that fosters environmental stewardship. They learned to assess the effectiveness of environmental interpretative programs and develop their own practice. Dr. Crootof was excited that students could learn from professionals in environmental interpretative job positions.

“The fact that students get to go to Yellowstone National Park and not only get to interact with professionals but also get to practice in the park is huge for learning about the professional side of interpretation,” Crootof said.

StudentsObserving Wildlife

Yellowstone Forever Program Manager, Carolyn Bulin, assisted Dr. Crootof with instructing and evaluating presentations inside of the park. Bulin also attended Montana Western to help evaluate student presentations the following week. Students replicated real environmental interpretative scenarios and led the class through an hour-long interactive presentation. Presentations ranged from horseback guiding in the Bob Marshall Wilderness area to fly fishing on the Beaverhead River.

“For a lot of environmental sustainability courses we are in the classroom learning about the science behind it. This class, however, focuses more on the soft skills required to engage and inspire an audience,” Crootof explained.

Grizzly Bear

Students who participated in the course earned two certificates, including “Certified Interpretation Guide” by the National Association for Interpretation, and “Yellowstone Naturalist Guide” by Yellowstone Forever. These certificates provide students with real world experiences for their resumes and future professional careers.

Students Fly Fishing

Dr. Crootof attributes UMW’s Experience One block program for making these courses possible. Students at Montana Western take a single course at a time, three hours each day for 18 days before moving on to the next.

“The fact that we can spend a week or two weeks being totally immersed in a course allows students to gain special experience they may not be able to receive elsewhere. The flexibility of Experience One really does provide our students with great opportunities,” Crootof said.

Students learning how to properly pack a horse

Many students praised the hands-on experience and the opportunity to explore Yellowstone Park. Seeing professionals in action and then getting to work alongside them shed new light into the world of environmental interpretation.

After receiving feedback to conclude the class, one student wrote, “This course has more than helped with adding knowledge to the field of interpretation. Leaving this class makes me feel confident about my future in the professional world of environmental interpretation.”

Class picture at the end of the course

Scheduled to be available every other year, Environmental Interpretation (ENST 275) is a unique opportunity for Montana Western students. For more information, please contact Assistant Professor Dr. Arica Crootof by calling 406-683-7075 or email [email protected]. There is a $900 course fee associated with the class, which covers travel and lodging in Gardiner, Mont., and all programming and certification costs. Course fees can be covered by financial aid, and students are also encouraged to apply for Experience One Learning Grants to help cover costs. In collaboration with UMW, Yellowstone Forever is also in the process of establishing future internship opportunities for Montana Western students.