On August 26, 43 first-semester students in A Sense of Place: Expedition I departed Craftsbury Common less than 24 hours after arriving on campus, wearing smiles and hiking boots, for four days and three nights on Vermont’s Long Trail. Six faculty members and seven teaching assistants facilitated the backpacking trip, which was designed to accommodate students who are new to or just beginning to enjoy outdoor recreation activities and included a service-learning component. Over the course of the trip, six groups hiked between 10.7-16.1 miles each, completing 336 total service hours with the Green Mountain Club. This introduction to Sterling College is a new tradition; 2019 is the second year that the Fall Intensive course A Sense of Place has had an Expedition component.

This course is designed to help students develop a sense of place as they begin their Sterling College careers, allowing participants to develop bonds with other incoming students and explore topics central to life at Sterling, such as local ecology and community. The course uses experiential learning to improve interpersonal communication ability, leadership skills, enhance self-efficacy, and develop greater awareness as members of a community– an essential foundation for a Sterling education. In addition to the backpacking trip and service-learning component, time is spent on campus becoming familiar with the daily life at Sterling.

Students received a notebook during the trip orientation for daily journaling during the intensive. First-year student Grace Jessiman reflected about her experience in her journal while on The Long Trail:

To butter in the frying pan (may it last and not begin to smoke).


To the names of trees and the real truths behind the appellations. 


To jelly stuck on my fingers and leaf mold in my hair. 


To the sound of water dripping like blood down mossy rocks and the birdsong that wakes me up from sleep. 


To warm sleeping bags and cold water smelling of roots and a spectral hint of sky, to flowers I can’t remember and mushrooms I hope to eat. 


To lumpy ground mostly out of hope for a flatter tomorrow and the tops of hills grain by grain leaving for the sea as if with itchy feet; to the blisters I don’t have and the mosquito bites I do, to spiders. 


To jewelweed and ferns, and murmured conversations half-asleep in the darkness; to peanut butter and boiling water and yellow iodine staining my mouth with its hose-like taste (where is my watermelon?). 


To the bioluminescent fungus that echos the stars- we scatter it, drops of light, pearls fall from our fingertips.


To the singing voices of newfound friendships. 


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