From Mount Nittany to Patagonia: Students prep for study abroad in Chile

Students in ERM 499: Natural Resources in Chile/Patagonia recently hiked Mount Nittany in preparation for their study abroad trip during winter break. Credit: Penn State / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Over winter break, Penn State students in the embedded course ERM 499: Natural Resources in Chile/Patagonia will spend two weeks exploring the culture of Chile and the vast region of Patagonia with a focus on natural resources, climate and sustainability.

In Chile, students will go on four major hikes: Cerro Mirador, Towers in Torres de Paine in Patagonia, Orsano Volcano, and a sunrise geyser walk. To help them prepare for these treks, the students recently hiked Mount Nittany, a mountain ridge in Centre County.

“The Mount Nittany hike was part team-building exercise, part educational experience, and practice for these hikes,” said Tammy Shannon, academic advising coordinator and course instructor, who added that the College of Agricultural Sciences’ strategic plan includes several “super themes” of sustainability, global engagement and education, which all are addressed in the class.

The students were led on their recent adventure by Dan Trew of Centred Outdoors, a program of Clearwater Conservancy.

“Climbing Mount Nittany is more than a rite of passage for Penn State students — it provides them with a critical sense of place,” said Trew. “You can really see that we are nestled between forested ridges to the north and south and expansive agriculture to the east and west, an island of modern civilization.

“As the students continue the course, and ultimately move on to their post-college journeys, they should carry with them an excellent example of a community that can balance the ever-pressing demands of growth and progress with the conservation and stewardship of the natural resources nearby that make this place so special.”

Only six of the 18 had ever hiked Mount Nittany, and junior Emily Dillinger, of Elk County, Pennsylvania, was not one of those six. The environmental resource management major describes herself as an avid hiker and was excited to experience a new area.

Senior Jason Zubris, of Plains, Pennsylvania, also is an environmental resource management major. He has hiked Mount Nittany before and attributed his love of the outdoors to participating in Boy Scouts.

“I might need to get back into hiking shape before our trip,” Zubris said. “I've been busy with school, and our most recent hike reminded me of how tiring some uphill climbs can be.”

Not all of the students traveling to Chile are environmental resource management majors. Junior Brittany Mumma, of Lancaster, is majoring in community, environment and development.

“Thanks to the CED program at Penn State, I feel that I see the world through a different lens,” said Mumma, who has hiked Mount Nittany before. “I was interested in this class because I thought the experience would complement the knowledge that I've gained these past two years. It is an amazing opportunity to draw connections between political, environmental and social institutions from the information presented in class and what we experience traveling to the country we learned about. I definitely would recommend this class to other CED majors, even those who are not interested in international development, because we learn so much from other places and people.”

The students take in the view from the top of Mount Nittany.  Credit: Penn State / Penn StateCreative Commons

For Dillinger, the embedded travel of ERM 499 was the perfect way to have a study-abroad experience during college.

“I always wanted to travel abroad, but not for an entire semester,” she said. “This class is a chance to go on an epic adventure.”

Zubris agreed. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “I see the class and the trip as a fantastic way to gain a new perspective on environmental practices. I come from a region that has been affected heavily by mining practices, and comparing my home to those regions in Chile will be interesting.”

During the trip, students will visit protected natural areas of Chile, interact with governmental and nongovernmental natural resource agencies, and experience Chilean industry. They even will get to see a penguin colony on Magdalena Island and visit the dark night sky observatory in the Atacama region. More information about the trip’s itinerary can be found on the College of Agricultural Sciences’ study-abroad webpage.

Both Dillinger and Zubris agree that their major goals for the trip include gaining insights on the environmental practices in another region of the world and getting to experience and appreciate a new culture.

“I love the emphasis on visiting the national parks and seeing a variety of environments throughout the country,” Dillinger said. “I am totally ‘geeking out’ about the chance to go to Chile’s newest national park, Patagonia. This is an incredible opportunity for me to get to travel to a place that has inspired countless adventurers before me.”

Zubris is looking forward to experiencing the lakes and coastal regions of Chile, too.

“I’m an avid fisherman and am just drawn to water. From pictures, the areas look pristine. I’m hoping to appreciate and understand how they keep them that clean,” he said. 

Zubris’ future career goals include restoring polluted waterways, and he hopes his experience in Chile will help him bring a new perspective to his work.

Dillinger, who works for Penn State’s AURORA outdoor orientation program and the Outdoor Adventures department of Campus Recreation, plans to pursue a career in guiding outdoor adventure trips. An added benefit of this class for Dillinger is the chance to see how other companies run their outdoor adventure experience and talk to other guides. 

“I learn a lot of teaching and facilitation skills by watching others,” she said. “I value any experience where I learn new things about the world around me that I can then in turn teach others.”

Last Updated October 04, 2019