National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version



Honors in Practice, Volume 9 (2013)


Copyright 2013 by the National Collegiate Honors Council


On a bright August day in 2012, a select group of honors students and a small group of faculty gathered in a classroom at Northern Arizona University. Most of us were strangers to each other. Certainly none of the students, who traveled from other universities around the country, knew each other, yet we were all soon to become a tight-knit group devoted to an entire semester of place-based, experiential learning. That late summer day marked the beginning of orientation for the Grand Canyon Semester (GCS), the third to be offered by the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) and Northern Arizona University (NAU).

Grand Canyon Semesters are integrated learning experiences in the humanities and sciences. Students study the environmental and social challenges confronting us in the twenty-first century using an interdisciplinary approach to the curriculum. During previous semesters, participants have tackled complex issues such as how to balance environmental protection of Grand Canyon National Park while still meeting the needs of over five million visitors each year. Past GCS students have also, in an outdoor classroom experience, excavated and stabilized centuries-old cultural sites in the park while learning about the rights of indigenous peoples whose ancestors have lived in the Grand Canyon for thousands of years. This semester, students enrolled in the latest GCS examined and charted water’s economic, political, artistic, ecological, social, and spiritual forces in both the classroom and the field, focusing specifically on the Greater Grand Canyon Region (“Grand Canyon Semester”).