Green Oaks Term, an immersive experience in the natural world, provides Knox College students with abundant opportunities to focus on different types of learning: academic, experiential, and interpersonal.
"I feel like there are so many aspects to living out here," said Maggie Decker '20, a music major and one of the students who participated in the 2018 Green Oaks Term. "Academically, I've learned so much. I get so sleepy after class because my brain is so full of new information. I think the bigger things are what I've learned about how to live in a community, and also how to take care of myself."
Classrooms aren't the only places where learning takes place, noted Monica Martinez '19, another "Oakie" who is majoring in environmental studies and Gender and Women's Studies. She said she particularly enjoyed learning in detail about birds and plant species and then being able to spot and identify them on the Green Oaks property. "We were learning things, and then we were automatically applying them," she said.
Offered every two years, Green Oaks Term is one of Knox's immersive academic experiences. About a dozen students live and learn for 10 weeks at Green Oaks, the College's biological field station.
The 700-acre property, located about 19 miles from campus, once was used for farming and mining but now comprises restored prairie, forest, and aquatic habitats, including the region's second-oldest prairie restoration project. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the College's 1958 acquisition of Green Oaks through the estate of Alvah Green, an 1890 Knox graduate and a College trustee.
Students in the 2018 Green Oaks Term built a community together, participated in the annual "prairie burn," and took three interdisciplinary classes: Deep Maps of Place, which covered anthropology-sociology and geology; The Natural Imagination, an art course; and The Natural History of Green Oaks, which spotlighted biology.
In one notable assignment for Deep Maps of Place, students created a "smell map" of the yard near their home in Schurr Hall.
"We covered our eyes, got down on all fours, and we were sniffing the ground," Decker recalled. "It was just a totally new way of experiencing a place that we had been at for, I think at that point, seven weeks."
"I think the purpose of that assignment was to really push us to think of the limitations of traditional mapping methods—how a map can only tell us so much, but it can't tell us feelings, or sensations, or smells," Martinez said.
For The Natural Imagination, students created site-specific art. Each of them chose a particular spot on the Green Oaks property, and then they worked with materials on hand, such as logs and fallen tree branches, to build their creations.
Among other Green Oaks Term projects, Decker wrote a paper about "time as a social construction" for the Deep Maps course, and Martinez created a collection of beetles for The Natural History of Green Oaks.
Decker and Martinez said they highly recommend that other Knox students consider participating in Green Oaks Term, no matter what their academic major might be.
"Green Oaks is just going to change your life," Martinez said. "Each and every one of us has just experienced so much transformation and growth."