Associate Professor Amy Koehlinger takes to Andrews Forest for a week-long, immersive field class

Fred Swanson, a School of Forestry emeritus professor, lectures with students Colin Lindquist and Sumiran Chandhok looking on.

By Emily Willis, CLA student writer - October 6, 2023

While learning in traditional classroom settings is the norm for many OSU students, Amy Koehlinger, associate professor in the School of History, Philosophy, and Religion, took students on a week-long camping trip in Andrews Forest to explore the relationship between philosophy, spirituality, and most importantly, nature.

By being open minded and encouraging towards her students, Koehlinger created a welcoming, technology-free learning environment almost entirely made up of discussion, reading, and connecting with nature, as well as with one another.

The students started each day with a morning meeting to check in, and a scientist-led interpretive hike, then spent afternoons discussing relevant learning material, and indulging in creative work. Nights sometimes consisted of swimming and campfire talks.

“The first version of the course was held at a cabin in the coastal range – Shotpouch Cabin,” Koehlinger explained, when asked about what her inspirations were when planning the course. “I was thinking about the importance of nature and religion. I took inspiration from the syllabus of the philosophy field class Kathleen Dean Moore used to teach, and it really gave me a sense of how impactful immersive classes in nature could be.”

Koehlinger was right about the impact. Several students have walked away from the class with overwhelmingly positive experiences, included among them was Linda Dominic Ashe.

“That was probably the best class I’ve ever taken at OSU,” exclaimed Ashe. “As an Ecampus student, I don’t get the chance to interact much in person with other students, so I was terrified and excited at the same time. To be in that kind of environment, an old growth forest with wildlife all around and supportive, kind people, with the content of the course matching our environment, it all just clicked into place. What I took home most was the acceptance from the other students and the collaborative and togetherness I experienced as a student in the class. It gave me a lot more confidence going forward.”

Haley Mckinnon, a master’s student in the class with Ashe, felt similarly. “The discussions I had with the class, particularly during the hikes and campfire talks just felt so organic,” said Mckinnon. We all kind of went on a tangent that was so deeply philosophical and I definitely felt a little over my head, but the fact that we talked so organically the first night made the rest of the class really fun because we all bonded, which was really neat.”

Student Ray Wolf looks up at a tree’s canopy.

Of course, with every field class there comes challenges. Planning three meals a day for 20 students can become complicated, as well as managing students’ expectations.

“Students in the class had varying levels of comfort with the outdoors,” Koehlinger said when asked about planning for the course. “The lack of access to technology was interesting to manage, because while disconnection from the internet is a challenge for some students, it can add a lot to the overall experience of a field course.”

Field courses for any major at OSU are a helpful way to involve students in the hands-on aspect of learning, and can provide them with impactful stories to take along with them and share with others in the future. Koehlinger was asked about whether she thinks field courses are important for OSU students and should be more of a regular occurrence.

“Absolutely, yes. I teach a course called the Idea of God where we talk about the spiritual value of wild places, but it’s very different to talk about those ideas when you’re actually immersed in nature. Field courses make abstract ideas come alive.”

[Clockwise from left] Haley McKinnon, Colin Lindquist, Sumiran Chandhok, Kate Foster, Amy Koehlinger, Jennah Campbell, Joseph Swartz, Ula Renetskis, Elizabeth Nguyen, Ray Wolf, Linda Ashe, Bryan Smith