The Wild Rockies Field Institute is an academic institution with a primary focus on scholastic inquiry. Our courses seek to understand the complex relationship between ecological processes and human behavior. To varying degrees within each course, our curricula span natural, social, and physical sciences as well as humanities. While the academics on WRFI courses may feel relatively familiar to students, the context of our classrooms—wild landscapes and rural communities—will contrast dramatically to their experiences on campus.
WRFI courses challenge students to think critically, question pre-conceive notions, establish convictions, and maintain open, curious minds. Our courses are designed to take students into the arenas where the subject matter they are studying – from ecology to contemporary resource management policy – unfolds before their eyes. This is accomplished through curricula that are current, relevant and explore a wide range of opinions and perspectives. Assessment on WRFI courses is designed to help students digest what they are learning, articulate their insights, communicate their perspective effectively and recount their knowledge accurately. WRFI’s small group size facilitates accountability and provides numerous opportunities to receive mentorship and assistance. By providing students empirical perspectives about the human and natural communities they are studying, our courses help students develop personal convictions and a powerful sense of purpose. All WRFI courses consist of upper-division course work. Browse course syllabi here.
Methodologically, WRFI utilizes both traditional and experiential teaching methods in our pedagogical practices. Similar to classes on campus, students will be evaluated by wide variety of assessment tools; they will have discussion and lecture-based class every day, they will read extensively about the subject matter on their course through course readers compiled by WRFI instructors, and they will receive letter grades upon successful completion of their coursework. WRFI’s instructors seize every opportunity to ground the course subject matter in tangible examples that present themselves as the students make their way across landscapes and are immersed in local communities. They encourage students to integrate their knowledge and experiences and to identify the connections between issues in ways that go beyond the boundaries of traditional education.
In order to facilitate intimate and in-depth learning as well as a high level of academic rigor, WRFI offers a low student to instructor ratio. There is at least one instructor for every five or six students, and never more than twelve students on a course. Our courses are academically challenging and our small group size requires that students take accountability for their participation, both academically and experientially. Students will find WRFI rewarding if they come willing to approach social and environmental issues/questions with an open mind, are curious about how ecosystems function, and are prepared to explore their own relationship to the natural world.
Students on this course will gain an academic and experience-based understanding of the issues faced by the cultures and landscapes of the Colorado Plateau. "Resilience and Revolution in a Region on the Edge" is the unifying theme of the course.
Cycle across Montana on an extended bicycle tour exploring energy production facilities and visiting with stakeholders addressing global climate change. Academic content for this course focuses on the scientific, sociopolitical, and economic issues around energy production and use, as well as the current and probable impacts of global climate change.
Backpack and explore one of the most spectacular intact mountain ecosystems in the world while applying a framework for environmental ethics to issues around global climate change and sustainability. Academic content for this course focuses on sustainability, the philosophical tradition of environmental ethics, and climate change science.
Explore how human communities have interacted with Montana’s dramatic landscape from a variety of perspectives on consecutive backpacking and touring kayak expeditions. Between backcountry trips, students will visit the rural and tribal communities that border these wild lands. Academic content for this semester course focuses on public lands management, contemporary issues characteristic of industrialized society, ethical analysis of human interactions with landscapes, and sustainable solutions to environmental problems.
Participate first-hand in ecological restoration efforts and backpack in one of the most critical and iconic landscapes in the United States: The Greater Yellowstone Ecoregion. Academic content for this course focuses on restoration ecology, conservation biology, environmental policy, and environmental philosophy.
Gain an academic and experience-based understanding of community climate resilience in Northern and Western New Mexico. Consider the ways in which Spanish and Indigenous cultural resilience are expressed through agricultural systems and adaptations to climate change. Engage in a daily practice of creating artwork and finish with a polished set of artistic representations of climate change and community resilience.
The Crown of the Continent region is one of the last intact ecosystems in North America spanning across twenty-one different land jurisdictions and an international border. Students will explore regional conservation efforts on a series of backcountry trips in Montana and the Canadian Rockies of Alberta and British Columbia.* Between backcountry trips, students will visit the rural and tribal communities that border these wild lands. Academic content for this semester course focuses on landscape-scale ecology, connectivity between wildlife corridors, habitat fragmentation, traditional ecological knowledge, and community-based conservation.
*While our typical course itinerary travels through the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, we have an alternative U.S.-based itinerary that we have followed during the COVID-19 pandemic in response to pandemic-related restrictions around crossing the U.S.-Canada border. The alternative itinerary begins and ends in Missoula, MT with successive explorations of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in southwest Montana and the Crown of the Continent landscape in Montana's Northern Rockies. Course credits and overarching thematic content remain the same across both itineraries.