New immersive learning program will explore the culture, environment and diversity of Kansas

Fri, 01/27/2023


Heather Anderson

Kansas pasture. Credit: Larry Schwarm

LAWRENCE — There is much more to Kansas than meets the eye. The state of Kansas is a fascinating mix of environmental landscapes, rural and urban cultures, energy sources, and business and entrepreneurship, and this summer the University of Kansas Environmental Studies Program is turning the state into a “living research laboratory” with Kansas Abroad.

Kansas Abroad is a new, immersive study-away program that will take students on a two-week journey across Kansas to gain firsthand experience with experts who explore the diversity, contradictions and contributions of the state to the country and the world.

Paul Stock

“Kansas Abroad is a chance to explore both the unfamiliar and the taken-for-granted nature of this incredible state,” said Paul Stock, program director and associate professor of sociology and environmental studies. “Our students are going to do that by talking to the local people and visiting the places and projects working to shape a positive future for Kansas.”

During the two-week program, students will explore themes such as water use and conservation; traditional and alternative energy production; agriculture, food production and the Kansas environment; rural economic development; and the role of the arts in Kansas history and culture.

Moving tires in rural Kansas. Credit: Larry Schwarm

“While we hear a lot about the ongoing and looming catastrophes related to the environment, rural areas and Kansas, our goal is to survey the advancements being made in our state around conservation, energy and food production, and creative solutions for Kansas’ environmental future,” Stock said.

Throughout the program students will develop research questions around themes on urban and rural relationships, the story of how soil and water lead to wealth in Kansas, and the future of Kansas’ environment. In the fall students will select a specific environmental theme explored during the program to research for the semester and concluding with a research piece and public presentation.

Kansas cornfield. Credit: Larry Schwarm

The inaugural Kansas Abroad cohort of students spoke passionately and with concern for the future of the state, excited about exploring where they live and becoming stewards of change for the Midwest.

“As we continue to see the devastating effects of climate change and global warming, we need innovative solutions that can sustainably feed the people and the land,” said Maya Kaustinen, environmental studies major and program participant. “I believe that if I want to make these changes in the future, the best place to start is where I have always been. A state rich with agricultural history that I have called home and become comfortably unfamiliar with.”

Sunny windowsill. Credit: Larry Schwarm

The itinerary is still being finalized, but the group will make stops in the following cities: Humboldt, Pittsburg, Matfield Green, Wichita, Hutchinson, Greensburg, Dodge City, Moscow, Garden City, Wallace, Colby, St. Francis, Nicodemus, Hays, Russell, Great Bend, Lucas, Lindsborg, Salina and Manhattan.

Visits along the route may include organic farms and ranches (such as cattle, dairy, bison, wheat, cotton, hemp); energy production facilities (such as oil, gas, biodiesel, wind, solar); NGOs and centers focused on rural economic development and/or environmental issues; geological sites of interest; and museums, artistic sites and commercial vendors specific to Kansas, its history and the environment.

The following students were selected to participate in the first Kansas Abroad program:

  • Amaya Dajani, junior, environmental studies, Kansas City, Kansas
  • Sydney Drinkwater, junior, environmental studies, Wichita
  • Kameron Goff, junior, environmental studies, Neosho, Missouri
  • Maya Kaustinen, sophomore, environmental studies, Overland Park
  • Liz Peacock, junior, environmental studies, Olathe
  • Chase Perkins, senior, ecology and evolutionary biology, environmental studies, Tecumseh
  • Morgan Phelps, junior, environmental studies and urban planning, Lake Mary, Florida
  • Calvin Spilker, sophomore, environmental studies, Yokosuka, Japan.
View of field from car window. Credit: Larry Schwarm

Stock is an environmental and rural sociologist with a primary interest in family farmers. Specifically, how do farmers respond to changes in the international economy? This work is also related to interests in environmental ethics, justice and agriculture, agricultural social movements, and the culture and symbolism of farming as it relates to policy.

Kansas Abroad is almost fully funded by donors through partnership with KU Endowment.

The College is the heart of KU, educating the most students, producing the most research and collaborating with nearly every entity at KU. The College is home to more than 50 departments, programs and centers, as well as the School of the Arts and School of Public Affairs & Administration.

Top right image: Paul Stock, associate professor. All other images credit Larry Schwarm.

Fri, 01/27/2023


Heather Anderson

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Heather Anderson

College of Liberal Arts & Sciences