From Iceland to Galapagos Islands in May Experience

by Erikah Haavie, Contributing Writer

Travel to one of 10 exotic destinations from Iceland to the Galapagos. Or, stay a bit closer to home and study everything from iphone apps to yoga right on campus.

An ever-expanding menu of course offerings led to record enrollment in May Experience courses at Furman this year.

A total of 618 students, or nearly one out of four Furman students, participated in one of 51 sections held last month, according to the academic records. Fourteen sections were held in distant locales from a farm in North Central Iowa to classrooms in Queenstown, New Zealand, as part of the study away program.

Enrollment in the May Experience program has continued to climb since its inception in 2009, drawing everyone from freshmen to graduated seniors.

The May Experience program is one of the most successful elements of the revised academic calendar and curriculum, said Brad Barron, associate dean and university registrar.

Students give the program “consistently rave reviews,” he said.

Oh, and it’s a great way to earn two credits in three weeks.

Suresh Muthukrishnan, an associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, traveled with fellow professors Brannon Andersen and Jack Garihan and a group of 10 students to one of the world’s coldest countries for “Iceland: Land of Fire and Ice.”

Students from diverse majors were able to venture into one of the world’s most unique environments, exploring the “fire” of active volcanoes and historic lava fields, deep canyons, roaring rivers, and the “ice” of high glaciers.

“It’s a very dynamic place,” said Muthukrishnan.

At the same time, students were able to study sustainability issues, such as how residents are able to use volcanic energy for power and growing food and the effects of climate change on glaciers.

“Experiencing different cultures gives a deeper meaning to their own culture,” Muthukrishnan said, adding that professors are planning their next trip to Iceland in 2015.
Yancy Fouche, assistant director for study away and international education, accompanied Kristy Maher, a professor in the sociology department and Elaine Nocks, a retired professor from the psychology department, to study cultural issues of HIV/AIDS in Botswana.

While some students have traveled extensively, for others, the transatlantic flights were their first trips ever on airplanes.

“Moving away from campus into a new country or a new place really helps groups to come together and creates a high level of excitement over what they’re studying,” Fouche said.

Sarah Beth Caldwell, a junior from Seymour, Tenn., majoring in elementary education, agreed. She traveled with a group of 18 other students to New Zealand for “International Perspectives of Public Education” with education professors George Lipscomb and Shirley Ritter.

Caldwell said she jumped at the chance to participate in the trip because she knew she would have the “travel experience of a lifetime” while being able to explore a new system of education.

“Having the experience of learning in New Zealand was awesome, but I believe what I enjoyed most about the trip was getting to know my fellow Furman students. Being with my Furman peers halfway around the world inspired me in so many ways,” Caldwell said. “I was able to learn more about my peers, Furman, and myself through the trip. From the experience, I could see personal growth which, in my opinion, is the best thing I could take away.”

Fouche credits continuing growth in Study Away courses to increasing interest by both students and faculty who recognize the session’s unique value. Some faculty members have been able to use the May Experience course as a stepping stone to building a semester-long study abroad program, she said.
Planning is already underway for next year’s May Experience courses, Fouche said.

Faculty are encouraged to submit their course proposals by August.