The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem connects humans to wilderness, but ultimately my students connect me with Jackson Hole. To learn is to connect, and I always learn the most from the curiosity and creativity of my students. Choosing to move to Jackson stemmed from an ideological interest – how can we facilitate authentic connections between the scientific process and consumers of science? To me, connection lies in building confidence in understanding, conducting, and evaluating science. In facilitating these connections, I inadvertently forged authentic connections with an ecosystem, a community, and a way of interpreting science myself.
Ultimately, I hope that each student arriving in Jackson Hole connects with this place – that they observe, ask questions, learn, and connect. They engage their observations and questions in the scientific process, generating creative and effective ways to share their analyses and conclusions. They connect to field sites and methods, to the importance of sharing science, and to confidence in their own scientific thought. In exploring science, thought, and expression, they can connect their individual experiences and interests to this place. Connection and experience empower stewards to enrich our places, our communities, and our understanding. When students harness the tools of field-based scientific inquiry, art, expression, and outdoor pursuits, they connect and they steward.
In Kelly, Wyoming, a group of future stewards in a snowy high school program connected art and science with watercolors. As they documented their learning, snowflakes settled on their paintings and blurred their progress. Exploring this phenomenon, some students chose to mimic the snowflake effect in their final reflection in which they creatively communicated their experience with science. Three students took dry watercolor pigment, ground it, artfully arranged the powder on watercolor paper, and set their pages out in a snowstorm. Eyes alight, they watched snow from Jackson Hole interact with their reflection on time spent here. As snowflakes hit pigment and seeped into paper, the students remarked on the magic of this place, the science, and their message – a connection I couldn’t have facilitated if I tried. My students connect me to this place and to the magic of learning.