October 2, 2015

Erica Schwabach is a SUNY – ESF graduate as well as a alum of the Wild Rockies Field Institute’s Restoration Ecology course. Here, she tells why three weeks in Montana changed her undergraduate education… for the best!

What was the most memorable adventurous moment on your trip?

The whole thing!! Haha.. no, there are certainly moments that stick out in particular. Even though it was possibly the coldest moment of my trip, I know I will always remember the trip into the Snowcrest Mountains at the beginning of my course. About 2-3 days the weather began to turn and it started snowing as we climbed in elevation. Not having the proper clothing really set me back but my fellow classmates showed me nothing but love and care as they gave me their extra layers and hugs. Pat, our instructor, even built a fire in the snow! It was a moment I will never forget. It challenged me and taught me my strengths and weaknesses. At the end of the trip I was very fortunate to have made it back down the mountain, but I was so grateful to have been given the chance to even see such a beautiful place and come back to NY to tell of it.

What was the most memorable connection (with a fellow student, instructor, or guest speaker, etc) that you made on course?

This one is a tough one. I really connected to a lot of different students and both of my instructors. So I don’t think I’ll choose just one. One of my strongest connections was to my tent mate, Ilona. We were a very efficient team and got along great… neither of us snored! It was very bonding to spend 3 weeks camping and working and learning together. I’d say besides Ilona, I was closest to another student named Amelia on my trip. She was so sweet and friendly and a bright, pleasant person to be around. Our friendship grew as the trip went on and even though she lives across the country (she goes to school at UofM and is from Oregon) we still keep in touch via Facebook all the time! I hope to be able to visit her again someday. I also connected strongly to my instructors Pat and Molly. They were incredibly intelligent and kind individuals and it was a pleasure learning from/with them. I have kept in touch with both of them. I also have kept in touch with a student named Stephen from the Summer Semester WRFI summer-long course. We had so much in common and it was awesome being able to meet, work/learn, and hang out along with the Summer Semester group that summer. I made a strong connection with Stephen and am happy that we still are able to keep in touch via social media and phone calls every so often. I am so grateful for all of the wonderful connections that I made that summer!

 What summer jobs, internships or other opportunities have you had since your WRFI course?

 Since I was close to graduating, I only had a semester or so left at SUNY-ESF, my home institution, after completing my WRFI course. I was most inspired by the fisheries components of the Restoration Ecology course. So in Fall of 2014 I worked in the SUNY-ESF fisheries research lab studying maturity indices of the American Eel with a graduate student. I took the Summer of 2015 to finish up a couple of courses, Field Ornithology and Wetland Restoration Techniques and I am now currently post-graduation. I am actively pursuing opportunities in environmental jobs in New York State at this time.

 How did experiential education differ from a traditional campus learning?

 I discovered that I learn the best out in the field after taking a WRFI course. Being totally immersed in the field/place, learning totally hands on, and being immersed in nature it is an incredible learning experience that no classroom can quite teach you. You learn things about the world, about others, and about yourself most of all. It was great being able to leave campus to learn!!

 What were you most nervous for before your WRFI course?

 I was most nervous for being so far away from home (I’m from NYS while my WRFI course was in Montana), in a different place/climate, with others whom I hadn’t met before, and perhaps not being as physically or mentally fit as everyone else. It turned out that it was an incredible experience of growth for me as an individual and once I was immersed in the course I felt totally at ease! Everyone was incredibly nice and supportive.


Any advice for a student at your home university who is considering taking a WRFI course?

Be prepared! Bring a few extra layers of warm clothing.. make sure that you begin working out a few months before your WRFI course. But most importantly.. have fun! It’s an incredible opportunity that only brings more and more good things to come and great connections. And I’m so happy that I did it!

Thanks Erica, for being in touch!