University of South Florida St. Petersburg



Learning in nature about American wilderness thinkers

By Cliff McBride and Matthew Cimitile, University Communications and Marketing

To cap a semester learning about thinkers who revolutionized our understanding of nature, USF St. Petersburg Geography Professor Rebecca Johns took her students on a camping trip.

Exploring, journaling and reflecting on course readings, around 10 students from Johns’ “American Wilderness Thinkers” class spent the day and evening camping at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve

“We spent the semester talking about and reading the works of David Henry Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold and others who devoted their lives to nature and being in nature. And we can’t fully understand their meaning without doing it ourselves,” Johns said.

The 245-acre park is just three miles from campus, providing extensive hiking trails through native habitat populated with hawks, gopher tortoises and alligators. It also hosts the new Terry Tomalin Campground, which features cabins and primitive camping sites.  

“This was a perfect, convenient location for our class. We get to be in nature to put into action the things we have learned, such as being more observant, paying attention to our natural environment and connecting with it,” Johns said.

The Judy Genshaft Honors College course focused on five essential writers who shaped the American environmental movement, tracing the emergence and impact of pivotal ideas that shaped a unique American approach to the environment. In addition to charting the history of the wilderness ideal in America, Johns had students attend a museum exhibit and participate in a panel discussion on the future of the Everglades.

The camping trip further deepened the learning experience of the course for students.

“It was the culmination of our course. We spent this time in the classroom learning the foundations and now we are out in nature, which is at the core of this class,” said Aurora Baldwin, a biology and anthropology major at USF St. Petersburg. “It was exciting to be in this place – to be in a cabin in the woods - as a learning experience.”

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