March 5, 2019
Great Smoky Mountains National Park staff recently launched a pilot education program, ‘SmokyMtnU,’ through a partnership with Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). As a part of a four-credit biology course, students are spending their spring break learning about the diversity of park resources from Monday, March 4 through Thursday, March 7.
Park staff collaborated with MTSU staff to create the new, hands-on, educational opportunity for undergraduate students to experience the park while earning college credit. Students meet weekly to dive into park-related content developed by MTSU Biology Professor, Dr. Ashley Morris, and Park Resource Education Supervisor, Stephanie Sutton. Students research and discuss topics ranging from politics behind the development of the park to managing forest health to exploring ongoing research in the park.
“The Smokies has long been a place of learning and discovery for students and we are thrilled to have this opportunity to formalize the experience as a credited college course,” said Park Ranger Stephanie Sutton.
As a part of the course, students will spend two weeks in the Smokies over the spring break and finals week periods. During the spring break trip, students will accompany park staff in the field to learn about managing wildlife, inventorying aquatic communities, protecting resources through law enforcement, and caring for natural history collections. During the finals week trip, students will participate on a multi-day, backpacking experience where they will learn about resource and visitor use management in the backcountry. Through this partnership, students will gain insight into a variety of career paths in a National Park setting.
Park staff will be hosting an informational session this spring with interested faculty from additional universities to broaden the program in 2020. Funding for the ‘SmokyMtnU’ program is provided by Friends of the Smokies, the park’s philanthropic partner.