Hosting Students and Faculty of Earlham College


Earlham students and staff becoming acquainted with the Native Seed/Search farming operation in Patagonia, Arizona.


Sleeping arrangements during the Earlham College field semesters vary from sleeping under the stars, or in tents or indoors such as here at the Spirit Tree Inn in Patagonia.

Students receive 16 semester hours of credit for completing the four courses below. Field observations, journaling, interviews, service learning, readings, discussions, and an extended independent study form the foundation of the programs’ interdisciplinary, experiential approach.

Natural History of the American Deserts

This course offers an overview of the botany, zoology, and geology of the four major desert regions. Emphasizing field observation and study, students will explore adaptation, distribution, and diversity of flora and fauna in addition to geologic processes and history. The diversity of habitats and geography (from basins to “sky islands” to coastal environments) makes this region a rich area for scientific observation and study.

Environmental Issues of the Southwest

Often using water rights and use as a focusing element, Environmental Issues of the Southwest examines the complex interactions between society and environment from a wide variety of perspectives. Through hands-on study of the San Pedro River-one of the continents thirteen “last great places,” according to the Nature Conservancy, and a historical and socioeconomic examination of water use, students will explore issues of conservation and ecological restoration, environmental ethics, social justice, and sustainable development.

Outdoor Education

This course involves the mastery of wilderness skills in addition to the theory and practice of outdoor education. Using an experiential approach, students will plan and lead trips, teach lessons, facilitate daily activities, and take responsibility for program logistics. Land impact and management issues will also be explored in relation to recreational activities. Typical wilderness components include whitewater canoeing, sea kayaking, backpacking, and rock climbing.

Cultures of the Southwest

There are no environmental problems per se, only problems with how human populations behave in the environment. From this starting point, Cultures of the Southwest will examine the relationship between human behavior and the natural environment in historical, theoretical, and modern contexts. Using two, powerful cultural immersions (the border culture in Nogales and the Seri Indians on the coast of the Sea of Cortez), students will explore issues of globalization, ethnoecology, indigenous rights and self-determination, modernization, and cultural models of resource utilization.

Course Leadership

Leadership for the course is typically drawn from faculty members at Earlham College-a four year national liberal arts college founded in 1847 . Previous leaders have come from such diverse departments as Biology, Education, English, and Art. More than just lecturers, SWFS leaders are accomplished facilitators and orchestrators, eager to share their enthusiasm and expertise as well as learn alongside their students. The small group size (no more than 16 students) and limitless opportunities for hands-on learning make for a powerful and potentially life changing experience.

In addition, visiting faculty and local experts are utilized to provide specialized instruction and new perspectives. Care is taken to design learning experiences that allow students to interact and learn from knowledgeable scholars and practicioners in real world settings. Students frequently cite these interactions as some of the most meaningful experiences of their college careers.


While SWFS can be a meaningful experience for all, it is particularly appropriate for students with interests in the natural sciences, environmental studies, outdoor education, and natural resource management. Most participants are in their second or third year of college. Spanish language skills and prior backcountry experience are assets but not required. While the majority of participants are Earlham students, SWFS accepts students from colleges and universities throughout the United States. Due to early deadlines and limited space, interested students should contact the program office for application information as soon as possible.