The world is their classroom

While traveling, some people like to keep a journal to document where they’ve been, what they’ve seen and which restaurants serve the best food. When 31 UNI seniors traveled to Sicily and Southern Italy in May with associate professor of earth science Chad Heinzel, their journals contained much deeper reflections.

Sicily The students’ study abroad experience was part of the Capstone in Southern Italy course, which focused on the environment, technology and society. One of their course requirements was to document their experience by answering some big-picture questions: Will people ever look upon Washington, D.C., as you now look upon the Roman Forum? What factors could lead to the disintegration of the U.S.? What can we learn from the archeology, geology and history of the Roman Civilization?

“My environment, technology and society capstone is an amazing opportunity to immerse UNI students in research and international experiences,” said Heinzel, who has spent 12 summers in Sicily and Southern Italy conducting research. “It’s also a great opportunity for students to obtain a fundamental understanding of the relationships between humans, their environment and the role interdisciplinary scientific research plays in not only understanding our past, but using this knowledge to plan for a sustainable future.”

During their 18-day trip, students learned by exploring, asking questions, journaling and immersing themselves in science, history and the Sicilian culture. “We did not sit in a classroom while abroad; we walked in the footsteps of past civilizations,” said Heinzel.

SicilyThe travelers lived in Sicily while abroad and visited a variety of cultural and historic areas, including a medieval castle in Salemi, a rural area in southwestern Sicily; an active volcano on Stromboli in the Aeolian Islands north of Sicily; and the Forum and Coliseum in Rome.

“For some of the students, Minneapolis (which has a population of nearly 385,000 people) is the largest city they had ever visited prior to this trip,” said Heinzel. “There are 4 to 5 million people in Rome. Add tourists into that and the number is even larger.”

Heinzel also said that this was the first time some of the students had ever flown. “The whole experience was definitely an eye-opener.”

The Capstone in Southern Italy is offered through UNI’s Study Abroad Center. Yana Cornish, UNI's director of study abroad programs, said the sites students visit “are places where it would be unlikely that students would ever travel on their own without this program – places where they can observe and take part in day-to-day activities rather than be surrounded by other tourists.”

Heinzel encourages students who are interested in learning about the 2012 trip to Southern Italy to connect with the Study Abroad Center or to visit with him and former student travelers during the International Opportunities Fair on Sept. 14 in UNI’s Maucker Union Ballroom.

 “Students from many different majors take part in this experience,” said Heinzel.

“By participating, I hope students get a good educational experience in terms of what they can do with their degree and what they can do to make the United States strong.”