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Appalachian Semester

by Zoe Sarvis, staff writer

North Carolina is home to some of the most complex forests, enriched cultural history and passionate people who care about the environment around them—especially according to many of the professors at Warren Wilson College.

In the spring 2014 semester, sophomore students will be able to completely immerse themselves in their surroundings through the Appalachian semester. Faculty members Dave Ellum, Catherine Reid and Jeff Keith, the creators of this program can only say one thing about this semester: “It is awesome!”

The Appalachian semester will consist of four integrated courses that allow students to completely focus on Appalachia, the cultural region that Asheville and Swannanoa call home.

For the past two years Ellum, Reid and Keith have been working hard to pull together a semester that, according to Keith, “is a way to up the ante in how this college approaches experimental education.”

The teachers hope to take students off campus to explore the greater Appalachian community. By taking the same four classes, students will have more flexible schedules for off-campus field trips and longer excursions throughout Appalachia.

The courses within the semester will count toward the general education, and the service Peg 2 requirements for the service program. It will cover the natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences.

Keith will be teaching the “Landscapes of Power: Class, Community, and Development in Appalachian History.” This course will scrutinize the human-built landscapes, and how you can read and learn from those landscapes.

“This will be the history course, with a healthy dose of cultural geography in the mix,” said Keith.

Dave Ellum will be covering “Time and Tinkering: Observing Change in Southern Appalachian Forest Ecosystems.” This will be a science pre-requisite that explores forestry and human interventions in the natural landscape. It will show how “what we see now is a product of what was done one hundred years ago,” said Ellum.

Catherine Reid’s course is “Reading and Writing Appalachia,” which will fulfill the literature requirements for general education. The class will study the region’s literature and offer perspectives on the history, culture and values of the Appalachian.

The fourth class, “Appalachian Landscape,” taught by all three faculty members, will be a Peg 2 service course, and will be entirely about engagement. This class will require students to leave campus and learn through hands-on experiences.

This semester is not only integrative but also immersive.

“We want to take the students out of the classic classroom and out into the southern Appalachians,” said Ellum. “One of the most important things you can know is a sense of place. I think you need to know where you are from and understand where you are from, before you can understand a different place.”

Those students who are interested in the Appalachian semester need to apply. The application process is not complicated, but is essential.The early deadline application date has already passed, and ten spots have already been filled. The rest of the applications will be competitive and will be due on Oct. 31.

“People in their second year have not typically declared a major,” said Keith. “We are designing this to fulfill the liberal arts education.”

The 200-level courses fit into the general education requirements, and are targeting sophomores because there are no academic programs designed for sophomores.

“Freshmen have their first year seminar experience, juniors are encouraged to study abroad, seniors have the capstone and NSS experience, sophomores—they hang out,” said Keith.

The program is also supposed to be enriching and invigorating for the sophomores so that they may become more engaged with the general education model. This program can be helpful for achieving a minor in Appalachian studies or a Global Studies major. The intention, however, is not to recruit students to these departments, but rather to expand people’s access to these fields by introducing them to courses that broaden their learning.

“We realize it’s a commitment to take all four classes,” said Ellum, “so we wanted to make sure the classes fulfilled their general education needs. The application process is to make sure that the students understand it is an integrative program of 16 credits, and to see if they are truly committed to it. . . We have a real desire for students to take control of their education.”

The Appalachian semester is a new experiment starting next semester, but will hopefully become a last part of the Warren Wilson curriculum.

“This is an experiment worth making because we hope there is a future for this kind of education at Warren Wilson College,” Keith said. “We hope there will be more integrated course offerings.”



  1. [...] Appalachia, a class Keith and sustainable forestry professor Dave Ellum taught as part of the Appalachian Semester [...]

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