It is widely accepted that, at Wellesley, learning is not restricted to classroom experience. With the college’s support, students are able to advance and reinforce their understanding of the subjects by integrating into their learning a vast array of first-hand, real-life experience – from summer internships to community-based or volunteer projects. In some subjects, first-hand experience has actually become an integral component that many courses at Wellesley have now been including as field work or site visits.
Professor Patricia Berman has been teaching ARTH 225: Modern Art Since 1945, a class with a site visit trip as a mandatory component, for several years.
“ARTH 225 surveys the visual arts produced primarily in the US, but also in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa, from the end of World War II until the day after tomorrow. Because it is such a diverse and changing arena, I pick and choose the material, attempting to account for both the production and reception of artists and their works,” Berman elaborated.
The course’s content itself slightly varies every year as art world constantly evolves.Similarly, its trips’ destinations have also been diverse. In the past, most ARTH 225 classes took trips to New York to visit the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem or Chelsea galleries, depending on what were on display. Other classes have the chance to visit DIA Beacon, a museum of minimalist art or the Storm King sculpture park.
“The purpose of these trips is to push students to confront works of art directly in order to understand their dynamics, politics, and material presence,” Berman explained. Students gain insights as the classes wander from collection to collection or discuss on their way back to campus.
Similar to site visits in art courses, many science classes provide students with field trips. During this fall break, students in GEOS 220: Volcanoes and Volcanism participated in a trip to Mt. St. Helens, an active volcano with accessible areas to observe deposits from past eruptions.
“A highlight of the trip was one of our stops on the last day. We visited an outcrop with multiple visible volcanic deposits. We were able to characterize the layers to understand the eruptions that formed them and really get an idea of the geologic history of the area,” Hannah Oettgen ’17, one of the participating students shared.
Such first-hand experiences like site visits and fieldwork have proven to fascinating to participants and important in advancing students’ understanding of the class material.
“Reading about eruptions and seeing photos is one thing, but actually seeing it in person taught me a lot more,” said Oettgen, who is majoring in geosciences. “Field experiences are critical to geosciences in particular because we are learning about processes that formed and continue to change the world around us. Thus, it is important to be able to go into the field, make observations, and try to explain what we see in the context of these processes.” She also believed that fieldwork is essential for the sciences in general.
Similarly, the trip to New York has always been among the great experiences of ARTH 225.
“As New York has been so important as a site of production, circulation, and consumption of art since the 1940s, and as the collections there are so deep, students get an often surprising understanding of contemporary practice as well as experiencing the vibrancy of the city,” Berman recounted.
Explaining the crucial role of direct engagement with works of art through site visit, she pointed out that many art pieces are site-specific or are very difficult to capture in photographs. Berman thus places high value on and strongly encourages trips to major collections not only in her class, but also in the study of art in general.
Because they have such positive influence on the study of various subjects, curricular real-life trips like site visits or fieldwork are widely regarded by both students and faculty as an enriching experience in Wellesley’s liberal art education.
“As a geosciences major I have been able to travel to many different places for field trips. This has offered me the chance to learn about different parts of the country, both geologically and otherwise. More importantly, field work has taught me how to make observations on both.