Students visit "Land of the Mohicans" for experiential learning

Something for everyone: That’s how the faculty sponsors of the “Land of the Mohicans” study trip describe the experience they shared recently with seven York College students on the road to Canada and the Northeastern United States.

This past May, Associate Professor of History Tim McNeese and Assistant Professor of English Bev McNeese took students on a unique learning experience that included destinations in Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Ontario, Canada.  This was their fifth study trip with students.  Previous outings have included two trips along the Lewis and Clark Trail, the American Southwest, and New England.

At Stratford Shakespeare Festival

 YC students to make the trip were Kirsten Clements, Garrett Cote, Erin Florea, Mikey McGee, Laura Morrill, Royce Roberts, and Stephanie Wilson.  The students represented a variety of majors, not just history and English, but could take the three-hour class for elective credit in either discipline.

The trip included sites related to the French and Indian War; the Erie Canal; Mark Twain’s home in Hartford, Conn.; historic sites in Philadelphia, including Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Benjamin Franklin’s print shop, and a Quaker meeting house; a reconstructed 15th Century Iroquois longhouse; a 19th Century German farming village; the Brandywine River Museum, featuring the works of N.C., Andrew, and Jamie Wyeth; the home of N.C. Wyeth; and Fallingwater, one of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous houses. 

Then, there were the six theater productions.

“One thing that made this study trip different from our previous trips was the addition of the theater venues,” says McNeese.  “We had a couple of theater students with us who really appreciated seeing professional productions on stage.”

In Ontario, the group attended plays at five different theaters in Stratford and Niagara-on-the-Lake, including two Shakespeare plays, Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, and two musicals: Ragtime and The Pirates of Penzance.

For nearly everyone on the trip, seeing Ragtime, the Musical proved a highlight.  Students had been assigned the novel and were busy reading it on the first couple of days during travel, since that stage production was the first of the six the students were scheduled to see.

“It was really cool being able to read the novel before seeing the musical,” says Royce Roberts, senior student.  Roberts says he finished reading the book during lunch, just an hour before seeing the musical. 

The York College group had front row seats for the musical. McNeese says it was satisfying as an educator  to look down the row and see several students literally on the edges of their seats as they watched the production.Niagra Falls

“These are the unique kinds of opportunities that our study trips often afford students,” McNeese notes.  “Once we get out of the classroom and take to the road, the possibilities for extraordinary learning experiences are multiplied over and over.”

During the four days featuring plays, the group enjoyed staying in the same bed-and-breakfast, which meant travel was kept to a minimum, giving the students the opportunity to relax between theater venues, and enjoy the Canadian town of Stratford, home of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.  On Sunday, the group attended a church of Christ in Stratford.

The group made two stops at Niagara Falls as they zipped back and forth between the two theater towns in Canada. They rode the Maid of the Mist, a boat that took them to the base of the Falls. 

Maid of the Mist Niagra Falls

Before the on-the-road fun started, students were hard at work in the classroom.  During the first three days, students spent about 15 hours hearing lectures and discussing subjects connected to the sites they were scheduled to visit.  The McNeeses presented information about E. L. Doctorow’s novel Ragtime, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the history sites, including the Iroquois village, Fort William Henry (a reconstructed version of the fort featured in the James Fenimore Cooper novel, Last of the Mohicans), and Pennsylvania’s Fort Necessity and Jumonville Glen, sites associated with George Washington and the start of the French and Indian War. 

Films on Mark Twain, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the French and Indian War were also included.  One evening, the students went to the McNeese home to watch the 1992 film version of Last of the Mohicans.

Fort William Henry in New York

Following the classroom presentations, the nine-member party boarded a college van and headed east on a trip that would include nearly 4,000 miles.  By the afternoon of the second day, the group was in Canada visiting their first stop, a recreated 19th Century village built by  escaped slaves, included Josiah Henson, whose story provided the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s writing of the novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

The study trip was a multi-faceted experience focusing on the humanities.  Although history and literature were the main emphases, students visited the Brandywine River Museum in southeastern Pennsylvania, which features the works of three generations of American artists—grandfather N.C. Wyeth, his son Andrew, and grandson, Jamie. 

“The Brandywine was a highlight for many of us,” says Tim McNeese.  “The museum is off the beaten path and is housed in a historic grist mill.  Most of the students were not familiar with the Wyeths and their artistic legacy before the class, but I think they came away with a newfound appreciation.”

A serendipity of the visit to the museum was a trip to N.C. Wyeth’s home and artist studio, where son Andrew grew up and painted.   
Fallingwater

The last stop on the trip was Fallingwater, a house designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.  Again, students knew little of Wright before taking the course, but the visit to Fallingwater proved inspiring.  Situated in the remote hills of southwestern Pennsylvania, the house was constructed in the late 1930s on top of a waterfall.  Students found the house with it’s natural setting, multi-cantilevered style, and the waterfall to be among the most unique of all the places they visited.

Bev McNeese could not have been happier about how the trip experience went, noting: "With the first performance upon arrival in Canada of Ragtime at the George Bernard Shaw Theatre at Niagara-on-the-Lake through the final day at Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural marvel of Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, I do not think that we could have had a better combination of students, study sites, or weather; it was a privilege."

Tim McNeese notes how receptive this student group was to the places he planned for this study trip.  The weather only failed once, but the students kept their attitudes upbeat. 

“The afternoon we visited Jumonville Glen, where a young George Washington stumbled into an ambush with a party of Frenchmen in 1754, an event that precipitated the start of the French and Indian War, it was overcast and pouring down rain,” he says.  “Every student took to the trail, hiked through the woods to the site and returned to the van absolutely drenched.  None of them begged off because of the rain.”

Such experiences, says McNeese, are part of the “3-D” aspect of the study trips they sponsor. 

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“You can sit in a classroom and talk about something until the cows come home,” he says.  “But there is nothing like getting out there and seeing the places where history was made and where people lived it.”  The students, it seems, agree.

“This study trip was an experience that I will value for years to come,” says Kirsten Clements.  “Not only was I able to bond with students that I didn't already know, but I gained a greater understanding of the history and the literature of the Mid-Atlantic region.”

This year’s study trip was the second for Clements, who participated in the trip to New England in 2010.  She adds: “Trips such as this are an important part of the academic excellence that YC should continue to strive toward, and I encourage other students to take advantage of future opportunities.”

Where to next for the McNeeses and their study trips?

“Well, we sponsor these every two years usually, so we have some time to figure out our next destination,” says Tim.  “But we’re already started thinking about it.  We’re considering a study trip across the South or maybe one following the course of the Mississippi River to New Orleans.  But we’ll see.”

No matter where the next trip takes them, the students who sign up for it will find themselves leaving the classroom behind and gaining enlightenment as yet another York College van sets out for places beyond the college classroom.

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