Every spring break, Brown’s earth science students go over rocks and under trees in the Southwest

As part of annual field trip tradition geared toward students in Brown’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, students continue an annual journey of exploration, discovery and shared adventure.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Every year during spring break, students from Brown University’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences ditch classrooms and textbooks and head to the American Southwest for what’s become a tradition blending education, adventure and community building.

The weeklong camping trips enable students to witness up close the environmental and geological processes they’ve been learning about all year. Over decades, the trips have included visits to national parks and geological landmarks in Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and other states. The trips — open to all undergraduates in DEEPS — are filled with scenic hikes, experiential learning opportunities, long car rides and memorable bonding experiences for the mix of students, faculty and staff who set out together for a week under rock and tree.

Picture cooking around nightly fires with classmates, gazing at starlit skies during the night and waking up early for red sunrises over sweeping desert valleys — that starts to form an idea of what the trips entail, said participants who have attended over the years and come emerged with cherished memories of each other.

This year, the group — 26 in total — ventured through the iconic Petrified Forest National Park and the 50,000-year-old impact landmark called Meteor Crater (just east of Flagstaff, Arizona) before making their way to the Grand Canyon and Utah’s Zion National Park.

“On the one hand, the trips are a learning experience like many classic earth science field trips are in terms of seeing the landscape and understanding the processes that we're observing,” said Emily Cooperdock, an assistant professor who accompanied students on the trip. “What ends up being one of the biggest outcomes of the trip is that however people go into it — some of them being friends, some of them not really knowing each other — they all come out of it with a deeper connection.”

The trip is organized entirely by DEEPS students. They meticulously plan and research all stops, day-to-day activities and on-site lessons. “On some field trips, the way it works is that faculty are in charge and they're teaching the students everything, but this is a flipped classroom situation where the students did the research on everything and so they are teaching their peers about the geologic history of that area,” Cooperdock said.

This year’s group faced a series of challenging weather conditions — including unexpected snowstorms, hail and freezing temperatures — but through it all the spirit of exploration remained undeterred. In fact, many embraced it.

“We had hand warmers, and a lot of people slept with all the clothes that they bought on the trip,” said Anjali Shah, a junior in the department. “People rallied, people were very resilient, and it ended up going pretty well.”

Shah’s favorite thing about this year’s trip was the unexpected beauty of the canyon at Zion National Park. For senior Isaiah Olds-Campanile, no other site compared to seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time, which left him emotional.

“As a geology major, you learn a lot about the Grand Canyon, especially in intro classes, and I think it was just a big culminating moment to actually see,” Olds-Campanile said. “Nothing prepared me for what it was going to be like.”

That all plays into what makes the spring break trip so special, the pair said.

“It's definitely one of the biggest traditions for the undergrads,” Olds-Campanile said. “It's a really good opportunity to learn about geology in a way that you wouldn't normally be able to do… and it's also just a really good way to like to make connections with people in the department outside of classes.”

In fact, last year’s spring break trip is how Shah and Olds-Campanile first met and ended up planning this year’s trip together.

“It's a week where you're off the grid,” Shah said. “There’s a cool type of bonding [that happens] because you're bonding over being a little bit nerdy and just enjoying the outdoors… It’s an original type of bond.”