Experiential learning opportunities have been proven to help recruit and retain STEM students. The University of Missouri’s geology field camp is the longest continuously running one in the nation. There is only so much that students can absorb from textbooks and classroom instruction—the most effective undergraduate learning is active, cooperative, and demanding. Because of this, many employers and graduate programs require some type of field experience of their applicants.
The Camp Branson Field Laboratory is located in the Wind River Range near Lander, Wyo. Each year, 45 students participate in the six-week camp. A typical day at camp starts with an early-morning breakfast, followed by lecture. Then, students head out to collect data in the field and work on projects ranging from sedimentology and stratigraphy to geologic mapping, hydrogeology, and geophysics. After a full day, students return to camp to clean up and eat dinner before attending another lecture or doing lab work on their projects. The curriculum is diverse and applicable. Students develop a conceptual framework of geology through the projects. This approach helps them leave the course with knowledge they can use in their future careers, not just facts or techniques.
Across the nation, it is becoming increasingly competitive to be accepted into a field camp. The students who attend Camp Branson say that it is a life-changing experience and a pivotal point in the beginning of their scientific careers.