Whitman in the Wallowas gears up for second summer

Dylan Tull

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Last summer, Whitman in the Wallowas took 12 Whitman students deep into Wallowa County, Ore. to work with residents and study interdisciplinary environmental issues through hands-on work in the community. Following the success of the program’s first outing, Miles C. Moore Professor of Political Science Phil Brick and Visiting Assistant Professor for Environmental Studies and Geology Ellen Bishop are gearing up to lead another group of Whitman students into Wallowa County this summer.

Due to the success of the first iteration of the program, the core of this summer will remain the same. That being said, however, there are two major differences that will turn this year’s program into a slightly different experience.

The first difference is a change in the central question that students will be exploring.

“In the context of climate change, how can ecosystems be restored and strengthened to meet both human and natural needs?” Brick said.

In the face of climate change, students this year on Whitman in the Wallowas will investigate the theme of “Resilience” and how it applies to a county like Wallowa County. How can Wallowa County and the surrounding ecosystem remain resilient to climate change? What role must ecosystem services play? According to Brick, these are the questions that Whitman in the Wallowas will be exploring.

The second significant difference in this year’s program is the change in professors who will be leading the excursion. Senior Lecturer of Environmental Humanities and General Studies Don Snow and Associate Professor of Biology Delbert Hutchison, who led the first outing, will be replaced by Professors Phil Brick and Ellen Bishop this summer.

Snow commented on how this will change the program.

“One of the obvious [changes] is: Delbert is a biologist, Ellen Bishop is a geologist. I’m a humanist, literary person, and Phil is a politics person. The differing backgrounds of the professors probably will have some bearing on the way the program works pedagogically,” he said.

Despite the differences in professors, the program will still be working incredibly closely with Wallowa Resources, the local, nonprofit, environmentally focused organization that they worked with last summer.

“We have a very good working relationship with [Wallowa Resources], and we have satisfied their needs as they have ours. So regardless of what the theme is, we are definitely working with them again,” Hutchison said.

Senior Alegria Olmedo, one of the participating students from last summer’s program, expanded on how easy the connection with Wallowa Resources was last summer.

“Working with Wallowa Resources, they know the community so well: the ranchers, the loggers and everyone: so it is a really easy network. People there are waiting to have someone to talk to and tell their story,” she said.

Moving beyond just this coming summer, Whitman is planning on turning Whitman in the Wallowas into a consistent program.

“The plan is to offer it in the summer before Semester in the West goes out. Semester in the West typically goes every other year, so this will be offered every other summer,” Hutchison said.

Hutchison also commented on how Whitman in the Wallowas will change and adapt with the changing environment of Wallowa County.

“As things change, [Wallowa Resources and other non-profits] are able to give us input and let us know ideas on topics, people to meet, and new things to talk about, so absolutely things will change,” he said. “The really good thing about cooperating with them is that we can ride that wave as well, to try to help them with ideas that they could do, but also bring those really cool current issues to our students as well.”

Snow noted that the success of the program’s future hinges on the success of this summer.

“Whether it will become a permanent fixture remains to be seen. We had a great turnout last year; we had twelve really fine students . . . we got it off to a good start,” he said.   “This could really be the pivotal year.”