Before the academic year begins, first-year students at the University of Redlands have the opportunity to embark on a First-Year Journey, which provides a chance to build community and learn about life at Redlands before New Student Orientation. While these trips have traditionally been outdoor adventures, this year students also had the opportunity to choose among academic immersion journeys, which offered a different route to many of the same benefits.
Developed through a collaboration between Associate Dean of Academic Programs Anne Cavender and Director of Recreation Andrew Hollis, this year’s two new academic immersion journeys focused on Southern California literature and pop culture and architectural design; the session on geographic information systems is now in its second year.
“My vision was to integrate academically focused journeys under the First-Year Journey umbrella because everyone in Outdoor Programs had created such a compelling model,” says Cavender, who acknowledges Kendrick Brown, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, for funding the faculty costs associated with the new sessions. “Our campuses in Salzburg, Austria, and Marin could allow us to expand the program further in the future.”
Academic immersion participants stayed in Redlands campus residence halls, explored the city of Redlands and surrounding areas such as Palm Springs and Los Angeles, and learned how to make use of resources such as the Armacost Library. Additionally, one day was dedicated to traveling to La Jolla to kayak with all of the other First-Year Journey groups.
For the popular culture and architectural design session, Professor and Director of Media and Visual Culture Studies Piers Britton created a robust itinerary, leading students through their first collegiate academic experience. Students analyzed films and learned about modern architecture, which included taking a field trip to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House in Los Angeles and meeting Redlands modernist architect Clare Henry Day.
“Students may be reticent or anxious about college, and these opportunities offer reassurance that what they’re embarking on is doable,” says Britton.
Jack Dimmock ’21 was the student leader for the trip, facilitating the group by engaging in discussion with his group’s seven students, as well as cooking meals with them in the residence halls. One night, he took the group to Market Night, a farmer’s market in downtown Redlands, to buy different kinds of berries they put on homemade pancakes the next morning.
“The highlight of my week was hearing the students talk about what they learned, whether it was going kayaking for the first time or making a friend,” says Dimmock, who was drawn to the experience by memories of his First-Year Journey experience, where he met his own best friend. “Seeing students come to the realization that they were all looking for the same things—friendship and community—was rewarding.”
According to Director of Recreation Andrew Hollis, academic immersion experiences offer many of the same benefits as the trips to the wilderness that U of R has offered for the past 14 years. Students learn how to set goals, deal with uncertainty and adversity, and enhance their communication and decision-making skills. They also learn technical skills, risk management, self-awareness, and how to be a part of a team.
“During First-Year Journeys, groups cook meals together, reflect on their trip experiences, and receive guidance from current students an each other,” says Hollis. “These trips are about small groups, building community, and promoting transferable learning outcomes. Ultimately you don’t always need the mountains for that.”
Hollis is looking forward to adding more trips to the roster in the future.