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UW-Eau Claire students explore Yosemite through immersion experience

A dozen University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire computer science, education, English and geography students visited Yosemite National Park from Sept. 21-29 as part of a domestic immersion project.

Dr. Blake Westerlund, assistant professor of English, and Dr. Harry Jol, professor of geography and anthropology, collaborated to offer the trip to UW-Eau Claire students enrolled in the "Land and Literature" course.

The purpose of the journey, according to Westerlund, was to explore the many diverse cultures of California and to use ground-penetrating radar technology to research the history of the land within the park. Students learned about the counterculture Beat poets of San Francisco, visited Monterey Bay's Cannery Row — the setting of John Steinbeck's novel "Cannery Row" — and explored the Awahneechee and Miwok tribes and the writing of naturalist John Muir.

"This trip was an amazing experience for faculty and students alike," Westerlund said. "Our group was as diverse as the many topics we were fortunate enough to be exposed to out in California, and we really became an extended family."

Senior Brittany Charlton, a geography and history secondary education major from Minnetrista, Minn. said that the interdisciplinary experience allowed for diverse learning and student perspectives.

"This trip provided so many opportunities for me to learn a different aspect of the field of geography," Charlton said. "Something great about having students participate in a class like this is that we all bring something different."

During the trip, students engaged in hands-on learning that they will share as a final assignment for the class. Examples include a photo gallery, Web page, film and research poster.

Jol said this interdisciplinary experience involving the humanities was very different from other field seminars he had led in the past. It also allowed him to view the geographic areas the group visited in a new light.

"Reading and discussing the literature from these authors (Walt Whitman, John Steinbec, John Muir and others) while visiting their landscapes left me with deep respect for the authors and their interpretation of the landscapes we were also investigating for a first time," Jol said. "In addition, through reflecting on the literature and landscape we also met numerous individuals who provided us with unique insights into their own cultures."

Dr. Phil Larson, assistant professor of geography at Minnesota State University Mankato and a UW-Eau Claire alumnus, joined the group to assist with their immersion experience. Other individuals who met with the group included Julia Parker, a Miwok Native American, Greg Stocks, a park geologist and Erik Westerlund, a park ranger.

While at the park, students volunteered their time to the 10th Annual Yosemite Facelift. Every September, thousands of volunteers of all ages donate their time to the park in the efforts to make it a cleaner, better place following the heavy summer tourist traffic.

For more information about the immersion project, contact Dr. Blake Westerlund at or Dr. Harry Jol at