Honors Student Tackles Acadia National Park

Mount Mercy’s honors students are known as outside-the-box thinkers and ambitious learners. For Morgan Filbert, a senior English and history major from Cedar Rapids, his experience as an honor student took on new meaning when he traveled to Acadia National Park in Mount Desert Island, Maine last summer for an outdoor learning experience.

Filbert participated in the pilot initiative of Partners in the Parks, a nation-wide partnership program sponsored by Southern Utah University in cooperation with the National Collegiate Honors Council and the National Park Service. Filbert discovered first-hand the natural treasures that comprise America’s national park system and was given unparalleled access to Acadia National Park with seminars led by expert faculty and National Park Service rangers.

The promise of a unique experience drew Filbert to the project, which was originally brought to his attention by Associate Professor of English Joy Ochs, who also serves as Mount Mercy’s Honors Program Director. “I wanted to go somewhere I’ve never been before and see an ecological system I’ve never seen before,” he says. Filbert and 15 other college students from across the United States spent a week camping, rationing their food, and discovering how to work as a team. “We clicked as a group really quickly, which was cool,” Filbert says. “That was one thing that surprised me. I thought it’d be awkward, but it wasn’t.”

Tucked into the rugged coastline of Maine, Acadia boasts Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain along the eastern coast of the United States, overlooking the town of Bar Harbor. The college students’ learning experiences included everything from testing shellfish for amnesiatic poisoning to assisting the Park’s construction crew in designing water tunnels underneath roadways. “Every day was different,” says Filbert. Students were also exposed to literature composed in the area, and Filbert learned that “a lot of poets used Acadia as inspiration.”

Ochs supports Partners in the Parks because it serves as a distinctive experience for honors students by placing them in a learning environment to which they are unaccustomed. “Honors students know what to do in a classroom,” she says. “They come to class, they read the book, and highlight the text. But put them in a classroom without walls and they suddenly have to assimilate new information and knowledge very quickly.”

Ochs feels that these experiences help define a college students’ view of the world outside academia. Last May, Ochs also served as program director for a Partners in the Parks program held in Zion National Park. During the week-long experience she led honors students from around the country, putting her background in geology into practice as she taught students to “read” their surroundings in a “Place as Text” experience.

Partners in the Parks is an initiative Ochs hopes to see expand, and one in which Filbert highly recommends. “It was an incredible experience and it will broaden a student’s perspective on everything,” he says.