Land-grant institutions providing access to higher education for 150 years

I noticed today that the Virginia Tech website has a feature story celebrating 150 years since the signing of the Morrill Act, which established land-grant universities in the U.S.  Land-grants were designed to provide practical education to the masses (not just the elite) and focus research on agricultural and mechanical needs of society.  I have interest in these types of universities, in particular, their mandate to provide access to higher education for the community through engagement, extension, and outreach.  While the needs of society have changed over the last 150 years, the role of land-grants, in my opinion, remains crucial to answering applied research questions that have relevance to our daily lives.

Re-entry

Today is my first day back on campus after our trip- it feels different and yet so familiar at the same time.  I think our shared experience has changed us in a way, or at the very least, our perspectives on higher education: to not simply accept the way things are, but to question why things are the way they are, as well as think about what we can do to improve higher education as future faculty members.

Our experience was more than just a glimpse into higher education in Switzerland, Italy, and France, but a cultural exposure to culinary delights, public transit, amazing history, and delicious gelato, among other things.  It was great to meet our colleagues from Basel and Lund, and I am looking forward to welcoming the Basel students to Virginia Tech next week!  While many of us are experiencing a twinge of sadness now that our journey is over, these feelings are eased by the opportunity to continue the conversation about access to and within higher education in preparation for our seminar at the Swiss Embassy on June 15.

View from observation tower near Zurich

Universities of applied sciences

I was doing some research about some of the universities we will be visiting, and started to uncover more about the universities of applied sciences (or Fachhochschulen).  The SUPSI website (Scuola universitaria professionale della Svizzera italiana, Swiss University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Southern Switzerland) describes applied sciences as “vocation-oriented” universities that provide professional training to students in technology, finance, design, art, social work, and healthcare.  Their website also states that the key difference between a university and a university of applied sciences is the teaching style.  At universities of applied sciences, class sizes are small and “theory is always combined with practical work” to prepare students for the workplace.

I find this pretty interesting, and I think the method is a good one to prepare students for professions in these applied fields.  I am a pretty applied person (i.e., I need to see it, apply it, and know why it is important), so I think this type of education would appeal to me.  I am interested to learn more about universities of applied sciences, and note some of the differences from other universities we will visit.

From game management to conservation

I started to do some preliminary web research on natural resources programs at several of the universities we will be visiting.  I was glad to see that most universities (especially those geared toward research) had some kind of environmental sciences or sustainability program available at the undergraduate and/or graduate level.

I think one distinction was apparent to me when I compared my experiences at two U.S. land-grant institutions to the programs I was reading about in Europe.  Many of the “traditional” wildlife and fisheries programs in the U.S. can trace their historical roots to game management.  We often affectionately refer to such programs as “hook and bullet” (read: hunting and fishing) programs.  The original focus of game management was optimizing game populations for hunting and fishing and managing habitat to support those populations.  In the U.S., we experience wildlife and hunting and fishing as a public resource;  this is much different from wildlife management in many other countries and cultures.  I am interested in learning more about this during our trip.

While many U.S. programs had roots in game management, changing public values and funding for research has migrated away from this tradition in recent years and towards more of a conservation biology orientation.  Today, many graduate students study endangered and rare species or non-game species (e.g., bats, songbirds, amphibians) rather than game species (e.g., white-tailed deer, bear, and wild turkey).  Rather than optimizing game species, in many cases, natural resources research is interdisciplinary and much more concerned with preserving species under the ever-growing pressures of human impacts on the environment.  In fact, our department at Virginia Tech just recently changed its name from “Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences” to “Fish and Wildlife Conservation” to address this change in the direction of the field. This change in many U.S. natural resource programs seems to align the directions of many programs at the universities we will be visiting.

I found information about one study at Lund University that was pretty interesting, and might be of interest to some blog readers.  Check it out to find out how the zebra got it’s stripes!

Hello world!

Welcome to my newly-created PFP Switzerland 2012 blog!  I look forward to sharing my thoughts and perceptions with you here as our adventure through European higher education develops.

As way of introduction, I am a wildlifer.  While the term “wildlifer” is often fondly used by those of us in the wildlife profession to describe our passion for living and breathing wildlife (figuratively and literally!), I find it to be appropriate here to also describe living a “wild” or adventurous life, taking those amazing experiences in, and allowing them to become a part of oneself.  Hence, the wandering wild lifer!