Fall 2012 Semester in Review
View a recap of the Fall 2012 Semester
Honors Student Studies, Explores and Photographs Grand Canyon
By Justin Karter
Honors Program Graduate Assistant
As she prepared in August to board an airplane to Arizona with her two small suitcases containing everything she would need for an entire Grand Canyon Honors Semester, Madeline McKain had every reason to feel like a fish out of water.
McKain, a senior photography major, would now be taking 16 credits of a science-heavy curriculum. She would miss out on spending one last semester with her college friends and would instead live and take all of her classes with 12 new people in Arizona. She was a Point Park student used to living on an urban campus that would soon be hiking and living in the Colorado Plateau, four days a week for 17 weeks.
Watching as her plane flew into Arizona, over what seemed to be an endless brown landscape broken by mountains and cut by bright rivers, McKain realized she was looking down at her newest subject. She was excited to start a new adventure and to have so much time to practice her photography in such a magnificent setting. “I want to travel and take photographs for a living, and I knew that this would give me the kind of real-life experience that I need to practice and prepare for that field,” she said.
For McKain the whole experience was about being able to analyze and see things in a different and more complete way. Her program, the Grand Canyon Honors Semester, offered by the National Collegiate Honors Council to member institutions’ students, is designed to link traditional classroom education with just this kind of real-life, experiential learning. After a seven-day orientation spent camping in the Grand Canyon, McKain and the 12 other students in the program arrived at Northern Arizona University, where they would live and take classes that related directly to their field experiences.
The Grand Canyon Honors Semester, the third offered by NCHC and NAU, is an integrated learning experience in the humanities and sciences. It aims to have students understand the environmental and social challenges confronting the 21st century through one of the Earth’s most precious resources: water.
This was McKain’s third experience with a NCHC program, as she had completed the NCHC Partners in the Parks summer program the past two years.
“I have learned so much and retained so much more of the information because I can connect what I’m learning to what I am seeing on the trips,” she said.
Each week, after three days of class work they would head back out into the wilderness. On one trip, McKain and her group spent four days working in a greenhouse on the south rim of the canyon. While they planted seeds and performed maintenance and landscaping work, they also learned why the park only uses seeds collected from within the park. It is because, as they learned, different genetic species can become invasive. They studied how the park’s policies have developed and become localized — all while they participated in planting the next generation of the canyon’s flora.
After her midterms, McKain spent eight days rafting and boating down the Colorado River. “After reading and being taught all about the history of the canyon and the different people who have lived there, we actually got to go down into the source of it and explore the remnants of these earlier civilizations,” she said.
McKain said she managed to escape from science classes for what she called “a three-day art hiatus” with well-known painter, Bruce Aiken. “That long weekend gave me a break from my other studies and allowed me to focus on nothing but art and photography,” she said. During the hiatus, McKain split the day between photography and art, doing sketches and pen and ink drawings. “This workshop shed light on mediums of art that I haven’t touched since high school and really made me pay greater attention to what I am looking at and photographing, “she said.
Helen Fallon, who is the director of Point Park’s Honors Program and vice president of the Northeast Regional Honors Council, brought the opportunity to Madeline’s attention.
In order to join the program and still graduate on time, McKain and Fallon spent a lot of time reworking her classes and schedules. “There was some hemming and hawing, but ultimately, I saw this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Madeline.
After taking a heavy semester of six classes, sacrificing part of her summer to take an additional course, and completing her honors and photography thesis a semester early, McKain still faced the additional expenses that came with the program. She applied for and was awarded scholarships from NCHC and Northeast Regional Honors Council as well as a student travel scholarship named in honor of Fallon’s late husband, Dr. John E. Fallon Jr.
“Mrs. Fallon and the Honors Program were absolutely instrumental in making this happen,” McKain said. “If I didn’t have her helping me through this, I know that I wouldn’t have been able to go – She was so adamant and tireless about making this work for me.”
Fallon thought that McKain was the perfect candidate to enroll in the Grand Canyon semester. “As soon as I saw it, I immediately thought of Madeline,” she said. “It's a natural successor to her Partners in the Parks adventure and her career goals. I am thrilled she has had this opportunity and will share it with the other honors students.”
McKain finished the program in early December. She plans to visit Point Park and the Honors Program in February to talk to current students about her experiences. This will follow another travel and photography adventure for her.
“I will travel to Jamaica in December and January with a service program that I have traveled with before,” she explained. She plans to create a documentary while she works building houses in a remote village with no running water or electricity for the agency.
“I think it’s really important to try to take advantage of all of these opportunities while you can,” McKain said. “I’m so grateful that the Honors Program made all of this possible.”
The mission of the Honors Program at Point Park University is to enhance the academic experiences of qualified students who desire a challenge, take responsibility for learning, and seek intellectual and personal growth.