MORRIS COUNTY — The Parks Program, an interdisciplinary institute at County College of Morris (CCM), is venturing to Yellowstone National Park with its first-ever student group this month.
Seven CCM students were competitively selected for this once-in-a-lifetime, free opportunity to visit the national park from May 14 through May 19. They are sharing the experience with three CCM professors who are collaborating onsite to teach art history, biology, and storytelling in the amazing outdoor classroom.
“We’re very excited for this interdisciplinary trip to Yellowstone National Park that will serve as our learning laboratory,” says Dr. Brian Sahotsky, professor in the Art & Design department and one of the program organizers. “This trip in itself is not a program completion requirement but rather a capstone for students to investigate several disparate aspects of what makes the conservation of natural lands so great.”
The four-day journey begins with seeing the incredible magnitude of Yellowstone and learning the history of artists, naturalists, and explorers. Sahotsky will lead the group through Artists Point, Yellowstone Falls, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone providing opportunities for students to journal and sketch to capture the beautiful scenery.
Later that week, Professor John Soltes, an award-wining journalist teaching in the Communication department at CCM, will provide an overview of the cultural histories and discuss the major issues facing Yellowstone in the 21st Century. “We will also meet Dr. Shane Doyle, a member of the Crow Nation, and visit one of the tribe’s ancestral spots,” says Soltes.
The itinerary also includes looking for wildlife, such as bears, wolves, bison, elk, and moose, in Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley. CCM Biology Professor Samantha Gigliotti will use her many years of experience conducting educational sessions about wildlife conservation to delve into this topic in Wonderland.
“Yellowstone National Park is one of the few places left in the United States where you can still see large mammals that once roamed the majority of our country,” says Gigliotti. “Our students will be presented with this amazing opportunity to learn about these incredible animals’ biology and life history and immerse themselves in the landscapes that support them.”
This unique adventure wraps up with seeing the Yellowstone Caldera, the supervolcano that last erupted about 640,000 years ago creating a 30 x 45-mile landform, and also visiting a variety of geyser basins including Old Faithful.
“Ever since I was a child, I’ve always been an advocate for protecting the Earth’s diverse ecosystems,” says Peter Balluffi-Fry, an International Studies major from Mountain Lakes, who will be going on the trip. “Being able to explore and learn about the national park that inspired Americans to begin protecting our country’s natural environment is what ultimately motivated me to apply. “I’m looking forward to witnessing all of Yellowstone’s natural, majestic beauty first-hand, from the Grand Prismatic to the bison and bears that call Yellowstone home.
CCM students interested in going on the trip submitted an application with an essay explaining why they wanted to travel to Yellowstone. According to Sahotsky, “It was competitive with many more applicants than slots we had available.”
CCM is currently ranked #1 in New Jersey for best associate degrees and in the top 1.8 percent of the best community colleges nationwide by Intelligent. The college continues to maintain its #1 position in the state in PayScale’s “Best Community Colleges in New Jersey by Salary Potential,” a distinction it has held for five years in a row.
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