Faculty and students from the college joined with others from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to spend their winter break trekking through the Himalayas and learning about the landscape and biodiversity of Nepal. The diverse topography allowed the students in a new study abroad course to explore topics such as cultural approaches to sustainability, the role of gender in agriculture, deforestation, erosion, and the struggles of local Nepalese miners.

“The trip appealed to both colleges because there was an excellent integration of natural resource and agricultural issues, and how they affect the overall environment of Nepal,” said Professor Matthew Eick of the Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences (CSES), who co-led the trip with Professor Tom Hammett of the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials. “There have been nothing but positive comments from both parents and students after this trip — it truly was a lifetime experience for many of them!”

Hammett and Eick were joined by Professor A. Ozzie Abaye and Associate Professor John Galbraith of CSES. The 22 students participating in the course — titled Influences of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Culture on the Environmental Sustainability of Nepal — were evenly split between the two colleges.

“Life in Nepal is generally pretty sustainable, and most people try to make use of all available resources, using simple but efficient technologies and management methods that are pretty intuitive but also incredibly innovative,” said Sara Diaz, a junior geography major.

Students examined erosion’s impact on water quality and the effects of deforestation along Nepalese rivers, as the mountains of Nepal are notoriously steep and the rainfall can be harsh. One group of students ventured to Nepalese mines to examine the environmental effects mining has on the community. The other group visited local farms to experience innovative and sustainable ways Nepalese farmers are reducing deforestation, such as using biogas systems to fuel household stoves and solar water heaters for showers. Hospitable Nepalese families in the rural countryside opened their homes so the group could stay and fully immerse themselves in the local culture.

“I went on this trip expecting to use my knowledge of sustainability and natural resource management to analyze the problems Nepal is currently facing, but instead I was surprised to find that Nepal had much more to teach me on those subjects than I could have possibly learned in a classroom,” concluded Diaz.