Campus Life

Environmental Studies: Learning in the outside classroom

Students studying environmental science at the University of West Florida (UWF) are embarking on an educational journey to California to witness how their education affects the real world. Travelling from May 3 to 15, they will be exploring the home of one of the largest farms in the world, thousands of windmills and extensive irrigation.

The class takes place over the summer semester. It begins with the two-week trip to California, which will introduce them to many of the concepts they will be learning about in the classroom.

“Students will be able to witness firsthand everything from solar and wind energy alternatives to how irrigation affects farming,” said Johan Liebens, professor of environmental studies. “They will learn, write reports, give presentations and gain hands-on experience.”

Liebens believes that by giving students the opportunity to witness their studies in action and speak with professionals who encounter the topics covered in class every day, they will be better equipped to carry that knowledge to their professional career.

Students enrolled in the class said they are also looking forward to the unique educational experience.

“I’m anticipating the experience and hope to gain further knowledge of the different geological aspects of California,” said Amy Thurson, a sophomore enrolled in the class. “In Florida, we do not have the same environmental or geological features as California. This experience will expand my knowledge.”

Gaining field experience at the undergraduate level is uncommon and something valued by future employers and graduate programs, said Liebens. He is confident the trip will help students in their careers as environmental consultants or at government agencies.

“The experience is valued because of how important it is,” said Liebens. “[The students] will get a much deeper education this way. They will see the issues on both sides. I can tell them about it, but I’d rather go there and show them.”

Liebens said he would like to see similar trips every two years.

“We hope this course is a model for future summer experiential courses that can allow the best and brightest students to pursue hands-on learning around the country,” said Matthew Schwartz, chair of the Department of Environmental Studies at UWF.

Those interested can follow the class’s journey on Facebook at