Going off to college should be an adventure. For some, that means braving the urban jungle. But for those who love the great outdoors, there are colleges across America where the student life and the curriculum take advantage of spectacular environments. Students can join extracurricular clubs that will connect them with the natural world or take courses in which they do field research in the natural sciences.

Dan McCoy coordinates the mostly extracurricular outdoor program at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. It organizes trips to nearby Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, giving students the chance to learn snowshoeing, skiing, whitewater rafting and other adventure sports.

The program is hardly unique. “At last count there were about 500 programs like ours scattered throughout the U.S.,” McCoy said. They rent equipment at low rates, often subsidized by student-activity fees. “It’s especially good for international students who wouldn’t have brought their own bike or climbing equipment,” McCoy said.

Students earning degrees in geology, marine biology and environment and natural resources are drawn outdoors by their academic requirements. “There’s a lot going on here in climate-change research,” said Susan Henrichs, provost of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, “research into things like sea ice, tundra and permafrost and how that’s changing.” The school’s wildlife biology and conservation courses deal with Alaska’s wildlife, but also teach principles applicable to sustaining wildlife around the world.

Learning in the great outdoors

A biology major at the University of Alaska Fairbanks climbs a frozen waterfall near Denali National Park. (UAF/Todd Paris)
Students at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island collect specimens in Mount Hope Bay. (Roger Williams University)
A University of Wyoming student studies a recent bark beetle outbreak. (University of Wyoming)
University of Wyoming students ride a raft in the North Platte River. (University of Wyoming)
A University of Alaska Fairbanks student checks a climate-recording station near the Kuparuk River. (UAF/Todd Paris)

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