Looking back on my summer in Wyoming, I feel a sense of excitement and gratitude for my experiences that’s indescribable, but I’ll try to put it into words for my past self.
As you’re about to leave for your trip, I know that you’re nervous for what’s to come. That’s typical. So, I want to start by sharing one of the biggest lessons you’ll learn: recognizing your pattern of overcomplicating the unknown. Coming off a stressful year of freshman engineering, you’re wound up and unsure about your future. Out West, you’ll quickly learn the priceless value of going with the flow, and it will reshape the way you view academia and the way you view yourself. Don’t waste any more time worrying about not knowing the exact schedule of every day– surrender to the peace of your new setting.
Once you’re settled into the quaint town of Laramie, you’ll hit the ground running learning an entirely new skill set. Building your foundational knowledge of ecology, geology, and paleontology outside of a classroom– getting to touch, see, smell, hear, and even taste the natural world will inspire a newfound appreciation for your constant surroundings. You’ll also appreciate the harshness of your surroundings; it won’t be long until you’re ambushed by the mosquitoes and burned by the sun, but you’ll learn to adapt.
Visiting Pitt’s Spring Creek Preserve for the first time, you’ll be mesmerized by the vast openness of the land and how it’s unlike anything you’ve seen before. The specific shade of green of the expansive prairie provided by the mixture of sagebrush and grasses will stick with you as your favorite color. You’ll not only learn about the geological history of Wyoming, but get to see it first-hand. Geologic formations across the Preserve contain various marine fossils, from fish scales to shark teeth, and the actuality that Wyoming was once submerged by a seaway will challenge your concept of time.
Your favorite location on the trip will be the Snowies, the mountain range making up the western border of the Laramie River Valley. It looks like a dreamscape. You’ll love Wyoming for its diversity in landscape. Just an hour drive away from the glacial-scoured mountains, clear lakes, and lush vegetation, you can be back in the near-desert habitat of the prairie, teeming with dried creeks and prickly-pear cacti.
Working on labs out in the field and back in the dorms will give you a sense of scientific community that you missed since the spring semester ended. Having to physically work (hammering open rocks, measuring trees, collecting macroinvertebrates from freezing streams…) for your results will be different than how you’re used to doing schoolwork (sitting in front of a computer), and it will feel more rewarding than any other lab you’ve worked on. It will inspire you to become involved in environmental organizations on campus when you return, and even change your prospective academic and career aspirations to involve more environmental work.
Leaving for the trip around the state, you’ll feel welcome and comfortable in the community of your peers. Being around people who share the same passions for the outdoors and learning about nature while all coming from different backgrounds of personal and academic experience will provide a positive learning and social environment. Going days without cell service won’t be a problem– you’ll be plenty entertained by playing hacky sack, stargazing, rowboating, swimming, reading The Catcher in the Rye, and the simple good company of your peers.
As your time in Wyoming comes to a close, you’ll dread your departure. The day-to-day commonalities of long hikes, van rides, and dining hall dinners will feel like the new normal. But alas, its time to venture towards the unknown again. I’m excited to see how you’ll apply your new perspectives and lessons to the rest of your time at Pitt. It’s hard to conceptualize how 6 weeks can truly shape and alter your future, but I know that your heightened love for and prioritization of nature will help you forge a new professional path where you can uphold those values as an engineer. You still won’t know exactly what you want to major in or pursue professionally, but you’ll understand that that’s okay. Keep an interdisciplinary, open mind since that’s what led you to this program and all of its amazing experiences in the first place.
Upon arriving home to central Pennsylvania, you’ll sit down for dinner with your mom for the first time in 6 weeks. Before she even begins asking questions about your trip, she’ll remark just how happy you looked in every picture you sent her while you were away.
You have that to look forward to.
Top left moving clockwise: Hike in the Snowies, First Day on the Prairie, Camping Sunrise on the Property, Arriving in Grand Teton National Park, Evening off at the K Bar Z