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By Mikayla Jendrusch, Journalism senior
For students wanting course credit and a change of scenery, Texas State University offers the chance to combine camping and hiking with journalism and mobile storytelling, in locations like the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park.
The Study-in-America parks program is the first Study-in-America offering hosted by the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. It takes place over several weeks in the summer and, this year, includes a road trip through state and national parks in Texas, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.
The program offers two classes, Feature Writing and Mobile Storytelling. Students complete assignments such as travel stories and short video documentaries as well as use a variety of social media for storytelling — all while on the road.
Applications are closed for this year, but the program will be offered again in 2019 with different parks. This is the second year of the program. The inaugural trip in 2017 included Big Bend state and national parks.
How it all began
Dale Blasingame, creator of the parks program, said it offers students an alternative experience which is like studying abroad.
“The university has been pushing for more of these classes,” Blasingame said. “It’s just like study abroad but in the United States. Students get that big experience of study abroad at a lower price point.”
Blasingame, an outdoors enthusiast, saw the program as an opportunity to combine his love of the outdoors with his desire to create content that draws in audiences. Along with Professor Kym Fox, Blasingame applied for a grant to create the SJMC Study-in-America parks program.
“This was honestly a dream of mine to be able to teach in a park setting,” Blasingame said. “Maybe four years ago, I set off on this path to see as much parkland as possible across the country. I knocked out all of Texas, and now I’m working my way through the rest of the country. So, sharing some of those experiences and hopefully getting more young people involved in the outdoors is a passion of mine. This class very much gets to accomplish both of those things.”
What to expect
Nicole Hengst, Texas State lecturer and assistant for the parks program, said it provides students with a different travel perspective than study abroad trip, which usually focuses on major cities.
“This trip is the exact opposite,” Hengst said. “It’s about getting away from those places and escaping outdoors to these beautiful parks. You also create portfolio pieces that are awesome takeaways that you just don’t get on the study abroad courses.”
Fox’s Feature Writing class produces stories and photos. The 2017 stories from the class were published in the San Antonio Express-News. Blasingame’s Mobile Storytelling class has students go beyond traditional methods of producing stories and provides some of the content to Texas Parks and Wildlife.
“For my class, the students are creating photo and video content for social media using only their phones and mobile tools,” Blasingame said. Though there are some occasional logistical problems due to Wi-Fi, or lack thereof, Blasingame said students work around it and manage to create impressive projects with limited tools.
“I was blown away,” Blasingame said. “I love seeing student work where you can see that they stressed and invested in that photo or video.”
The student perspective
Cassandria Alvarado, electronic media senior and participant in the 2017 trip, said the academic workload is made easier by the outdoor setting.
“At the end of everything, the goal was to get some academic gain,” Alvarado said. “It’s not all fun and games, but it’s hard not to have fun when you’re out there taking pictures at these beautiful parks. The work kind of disguises itself underneath all the fun and you forget that you’re doing classwork.”
The 2017 parks program intentionally stayed a bit closer to home.
“We wanted to set ourselves up for success,” Blasingame said. “It was parks that Kym and I were intimately familiar with, so we’d know what we were getting into in terms of taking students.”
This year features a bigger itinerary, with travel through numerous states and parks. Students will visit the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park and Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Financial aid can be applied to the cost of the program, and the Office of Distance and Extended Learning can answer questions about applying in 2019.
For anyone on the fence, Hengst thinks the choice is clear.
“You can take two similar electives here on campus and sit in a classroom or take the classes online over the summer. Or, for about $350 more, you can travel for two weeks, make amazing memories and walk away with some impressive portfolio pieces,” she said. “To me, that’s a no-brainer.”