The World is Our Classroom

When children learn to ride bicycles, there are no textbooks or classroom lectures involved. It’s a process of training wheels, pedaling and push after push from patient parents.

When teens and adults learn to drive, videos and reading materials may set the stage, but the rubber meets the road (literally) when the student driver sits behind the wheel, puts the car in gear and presses the accelerator.

And when College of DuPage students want to learn a language, understand a culture, climb a mountain, paddle a boat, hike a trail or master some other new skill, going and doing often proves more effective than sitting and reading.

That’s the premise behind Field and Experiential Learning at COD, a program that’s been around since the school’s inception. But it’s also a program that Lombard resident Paul Gibboney calls “the best kept secret of College of DuPage.”

Gibboney should know. Since 2007, he’s taken more than 20 field experience courses at COD.

With COD faculty facilitators and groups of students young and old, Gibboney has learned about and traveled to Yosemite, Grand Staircase (Escalante), Death Valley, the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, the Smokies, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, New Mexico, the Grand Canyon, the U.S. Rockies, the Canadian Rockies, Alaska, Bryce and Zion canyons, Italy, Acadia and more.

Closer to home, he’s hiked, backpacked and explored with COD in Northwest Illinois, Southern Indiana and Ohio.

And he’s not stopping soon. Within the next 18 months, Gibboney has enrolled in COD experiential courses/trips called “Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail,” “Classic Landscapes of the Desert Southwest,” “Costa Rica: Whales, Mangroves, Monkeys and More” and “The Tour du Mont Blanc: Hiking France, Italy and Switzerland.”

At COD, field and experiential learning courses fall into four categories:

  • Weekend and outdoor
  • Natural science
  • Social science/cultural
  • International

Many of the courses are interdisciplinary—they involve study of more than one subject at a time. For example, one adventure trip to Alaska involves physical education credit. But it also provides speech credit and leadership training.

The courses are all led by COD faculty members and combine classroom sessions as preparation, then the field experience itself. All are for beginners, unless otherwise noted. And all provide academic credit that may count toward a degree or certificate.

But while graduation may appeal to some, program manager Maren McKellin said the courses and experiences are open to all.

“Our students range from people working on advanced degrees to people with no interest in a degree whatsoever,” said McKellin.

Program participants, instructors and managers say the program has many benefits compared to traveling on one’s own or with a for-profit tour company.

Breadth of offerings, depth of immersion

While the number of offered courses depends on the economy, it’s common for College of DuPage to offer 80 courses per year. The courses range from weekend jaunts near Chicago to weeks-long travel to exotic destinations.

The experiences build skills, open minds and change lives.

“Not only do we travel to amazing places,” said Gib Egge, coordinator of Experiential Education and Training, “but we also immerse ourselves in the destination.

“It’s one thing to see the Grand Canyon from the rim, but it is an entirely different experience when you spend five days experiencing the canyon’s extremes—30-degree evenings camping on the rim, 128-degree days on the bottom, living among the wildlife and exotic plants, learning that you can survive with very little.

“And we end the trip by climbing out of the canyon and achieving a goal that fewer than 1 percent of the other visitors have achieved.”

Going places few get to go

Because these are academic trips facilitated by well-connected faculty members and students engaged in learning, some COD students get behind-the-scenes looks few encounter.

Professor Theodore Darden, for example, leads one trip that compares the U.S. criminal justice system with its counterparts in the United Kingdom. The field experience includes a visit to Scotland Yard in London.

Another course, called “Taphonomy: Understanding and Investigating the Dead,” examines death investigation and forensic-science techniques.

In that course, said Darden, “we work with the DuPage County Coroner’s Office and the University of Tennessee’s Forensic Anthropology Department (the “Body Farm”).

“Students work with human corpses in understanding causes of death, identification of human remains in regards to bones, time of death, all the other effects surrounding death investigations.”

Darden said the course is similar to what the F.B.I. uses to train agents and what many police agencies use to train homicide detectives.

“Fewer than 1 percent of all law enforcement officers will ever have a course like this, and students that I teach will have that on their resumes,” said Darden. “It can only enhance their chances.” 

Learn with people who aren’t like you

Many group travel experiences involve similar kinds of people—families, seniors, couples, etc. But with College of DuPage, many types of students learn side by side.

“You won’t be the only one your age,” said McKellin, “and you’ll learn next to someone who doesn’t look like you and doesn’t come from the same background.”

Despite their differences, said Egge, “most groups are very encouraging of one another and help one another achieve goals.”

Competitive cost

Because College of DuPage is a not-for-profit organization, it doesn’t charge the kind of markup that often affects travel costs. The result is affordable travel and academic study—even when factoring in the cost of required tuition.

Nanette Bauer, who lives in Lombard and has taken “too many trips to mention” with COD, said, “I try to travel as frugally as possible so that I have a budget to plan another trip in the future. COD
is probably a bit more than when we travel on
our own, but certainly less than traveling with a travel company.”

One additional financial plus: depending on the program, COD students may be able to use financial aid for experiential courses.

Someone to sweat the details

Finally, like other forms of group travel, COD arranges the itineraries and does the booking.

“Traveling with COD was one of the most wonderful and memorable experiences I’ve had,” said Kristin Schlottman, who participated in a field course in Costa Rica.

“There were so many benefits to traveling with the College. I really felt like I was in good hands throughout the entire trip, and it was a really nice feeling to know that everything had already been planned out for you.”


Contact Information

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College of DuPage
425 Fawell Boulevard
Glen Ellyn IL 60137

College of DuPage

425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn IL, 60137

(630) 942-2800 (Main)

(630) 942-3000 (Student Services)

  2017 College of DuPage