National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version



PARTNERS IN THE PARKS Field Guide to an Experiential Program in the National Parks by Joan Digby with Bill Atwill, Angela Calise, James Clarke, Rebecca Cole-Will, Rony Enriquez, Greg Fahy, Sarah L. Fann, Pavel Goriacko, Andy Grube, Kathleen King, Matt Nickerson, Joy Ochs, Elizabeth O’Donnell, C. P. Price, and Heather Thiessen-Reily (2010). NCHC Monograph Series, Lincoln, NE.


© Copyright 2010 by National Collegiate Honors Council


When Joan Digby first proposed taking collegiate honors students into our national parks, I jumped at the chance. Within minutes of reading her email, I not only responded with an enthusiastic “Yes!” but went so far as to volunteer the resources of the Southern Utah University Honors Program to get things started. Nestled among 5 national parks in southwestern Utah, I felt our campus would be a natural focal point for the kind of program Joan envisioned. Within weeks we had laid the groundwork for a proof-of-concept pilot project at nearby Bryce Canyon National Park. Little did I know at the time, but I was taking the first steps on a nationwide journey that would introduce me to 11 amazing national parks, some 47 park rangers, and over 100 outstanding college students—with the prospect of these numbers growing annually. The aim of Partners in the Parks (PITP) from its inception has been to introduce, or reintroduce, collegiate honors students to this country: not the transformed environment that we have constructed on its surface but the bedrock world upon which it rests. Like de Toqueville, Jefferson, Thoreau, Emerson, and so many others, we recognized that the unique place that is America cannot be separated from the land upon which it was built. One valuable way to study and understand it, then, is to visit places where the bones of America lie exposed, often without the veneer of civilization, cultivation, or modernization: places protected by the people to preserve for this and future generations, original American landscapes, and important historical landmarks that illustrate and define what America was, is, and can be. PITP takes students deep into America’s national parks. PITP is a see-America-first program. While we recognize the importance of a global perspective in an overall honors education, our goal is to help students see and understand America before or in addition to going abroad. Indeed, for students without the desire or resources to leave the country, PITP offers many of the same kinds of personal development that make study abroad so valuable. In the Field Notes to Chapter 2, “Growing from Within,” Bill Atwill and Kathleen King, share their experience in Acadia National Park, observing how their students demonstrated valuable growth in the same four key areas that researchers of study abroad programs have identified in their alumni: personal discovery, academic commitment, cultural development, and career development. The student writings in this volume, such as Andy Grube’s “soul expanding” talk with Juste Gatari on the rocky coast of Mount Desert Island, aptly illustrate this important facet of the PITP experience. (See the Field Notes to Chapter 5, “Sitting There in Silence.”)