I’ll be a Full-Time Student While on My Thru-Hike

I have always been the type of person to stay active, maybe not always exercise active, but keeping my mind occupied. An Appalachian Trail thru-hike has been one of those things that I could get lost thinking about for hours. I rowed all four years in high school and my freshman year at Temple University. When I decided to step away from the sport for multiple reasons I needed to fill a hole in my life that was previously occupied by rowing. My idea of hiking the AT started over the summer of 2017 while spending a summer working in Craftsbury, VT.

As an environmental science major at Temple there are certain “life experiences” the university will give students credit for. I started getting my information together and went to the vice chair (Dr. A) of earth and environmental science and explained my idea. At the end of my spiel, I was not sure if we were on the same page. I basically tried to say that hiking the Appalachian Trail was equivalent to getting eight credits. Seems fair, right? The plan was to come up with a syllabus about what knowledge was going to be obtained and how I will be graded. So I started calling and emailing other schools with outdoor programs asking what their syllabi looked like and what were students graded on. I then stumble upon this small school in the Virginia, right on the border of Tennessee.

Semester-A-Trail

Emory & Henry College is located just outside Damascus, the popular trail town that hosts Trail Days. They have a program that allows students to spend a semester hiking the trail, also known as Semester-A-Trail. Students spend January and February taking classes and working on projects based around the trail until leaving for the hike in March. The program is run by James Harrison, a true outdoorsman and two-time Appalachian Trail thru-hiker. When talking to Jim for the first time I realized this is how I can make hiking the AT and still be a college student happen. I went back to Dr. A, explaining how I found this wonderful program already established and that’s what I’m going to do this. After obtaining syllabi from Emory & Henry I gave them to Dr. A so she could see if they would transfer in and count toward my graduation at Temple. I will be the first student to transfer in from their original school and complete the program with intentions to go back once my thru-hike and schoolwork is complete. One thing Jim has reiterated to me many times is, “You don’t get credit for hiking.” The work done before the trail is where my credits will stem from. The coursework is as follows:

  • Semester-A-Trail thesis in nature (four credits).
  • Human geography (four credits).
  • Phenology ( four credits).

I’ve had amazing help from my college adviser at Temple; Stephanie has gone out of her way to see this dream through with me. We have worked together for well over a year trying to figure out how this will get done successfully. There have been lots of moving parts and it took everyone to make this happen. It is hard to believe I will be headed down to Virginia in just few weeks time. I want to blaze the trail (pun intended) for students like me. College is what you make of it, and that is exactly what I am doing.

Until next time, happy trails.

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