Immersive program gives students chance to ‘study abroad’ in Kansas
KU environmental studies opportunity was fully funded by donor support
This past June, six University of Kansas environmental studies students had the chance to take an up close and personal look at a place that, at times, may seem foreign to some — the state of Kansas.
The program, Kansas Abroad, took the same principles as a traditional study abroad trip — an opportunity for students to fully immerse themselves in the culture, lifestyle and challenges of a location — and applied them to communities across the state. The two-week trip was led by KU environmental studies and sociology associate professor Paul Stock and KU environmental studies lecturer Amber Thumann and fully funded by private donors.
“To be able to talk with people who are on a day-to-day basis dealing with some of our world’s most pressing issues, I learned as much if not more than the students — I’m positive of it,” Stock said. “And I was so grateful for that chance. We really could not have done it without donor support.”
During the program, the students visited locations in Kansas that are helping shape the environmental future of the state, seeing many of the ideas they had studied in class being applied in real life. They learned about urban farming in Wichita, watched wastewater be treated and recycled for agriculture in Dodge City and stopped in Greensburg to explore how the town is rebuilding sustainably after an EF5 tornado struck the area in 2007.
“The simple fact is that we don’t live our lives in classrooms,” Stock said. “We live our lives embedded in communities. Being in the community allows us to ask questions of the people forming and shaping these communities that our students are eventually going to live in. It’s a way of supercharging our learning.”
Thumann said the experience also allowed students to see the nuances of issues in a way that isn’t possible by solely reading a textbook. She recalled a moment during the trip when the group was on their way to visit one of the largest conventional agricultural farms in the state. One of the group’s vehicles got stuck in the mud. The family who runs the farm not only freed the car, they also offered the group showers, laundry and lunch.
“That experience encapsulates the human side of these issues in a way that I could never do in a classroom,” Thumann said. “You can’t distill these problems down into sound bites. They are complicated and they have human faces.”
Along the way, the students sent postcards to donors, expressing their appreciation for the support. Stock has also had the chance to meet with some donors for coffee or over Zoom.
“It’s been really great to be able to share not just what I do, but also what my colleagues and other programs I’m involved in do and how much that donor support helps,” Stock said. “To be able to do interesting and innovative things, I’m so grateful to them.”
Stock hopes to grow Kansas Abroad into a landmark opportunity of the environmental studies program that students are not only proud to have been a part of but is also one of the reasons why a future student would choose KU. He believes the experience has the potential to be transformative for students.
“You could see it over the course of the trip that the six students we came back with were not quite the same as the students we left with,” Thumann said.
You can help – Support Kansas Abroad.
KU Endowment is the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.