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I was lucky to spend last week working side-by-side with students on a trail restoration project in the Los Padres National Forest, as part of our third annual MIDterm (Midland term). With no tests or exams, MIDterm week offers a pause for students and faculty to take a refreshing breath of spring, delve deeply into one of their interests, and connect with this place and one another before heading back home for break.
As our group hiked up and over San Rafael peak, looming more than 6,500 feet above sea level, we could see all the way from the glittering Channel Islands to the snowy Sierra Nevada Mountains. Sitting atop the peak, I couldn’t help but feel proud of each and every Midlander who put their best efforts forward to step outside their comfort zones and learn something new.
While I was in the backcountry, six other groups had adventures of their own. One group of Midlanders rode waves on paipos (bodyboards) they built themselves using resplendent — and recycled — red cedar from the old Upper Yard cabins, another group fixed fences and rode across our hillsides on horseback, and still another rode bikes up and over Refugio pass to surf the roiling swell below. The marine biology group explored the ecology of our marine environment wading through rocky tidepools and swaying surfgrass. The forensics group solved mock crime scenes as they delved more deeply into the science used by police and medical professionals. In the art room, the print-making group carefully carved linoleum blocks with hand tools. The old haybarn transformed into a blacksmith’s workshop for students who patiently forged knives using traditional techniques in charcoal-fueled fires.
Last Friday morning, our community reconvened for a showcase of how students and faculty worked hard throughout the week to live out our mission and values, together. I wish you could have been here to celebrate MIDterm with us — there’s really nothing more Midland than these five days of experiential learning that encourage students to explore topics that don’t fit neatly into our classes and to develop their proficiency in one or more of Midland’s seven core competencies.
By Dan Susman
Dean of Experiential Learning
Bike, Hike, & Surf MIDterm
Rather than drive to the coast for a surfing experience, this coastal-loving crew decided to bike and hike all the way there – up and over the mountain range. From Midland, they biked 15 miles to the base of the mountain that separates us from the ocean, hiked up four miles to its crest and, the next day, biked eight miles down to the beach. They spent the next few days camping on the local bluffs, surfing, and exploring the beautiful California coastline. It was a pretty spectacular multi-faceted MIDterm adventure!
Marine Biology MIDterm
The Marine Biology MIDterm group explored the central California coastline from just north of the Piedras Blancas lighthouse on Highway 1 all the way down to the beaches just north of Ventura. They saw baby elephant seals and mating elephant seals, tasted pickleweed, muscles, and urchins, learned about the entire life cycle of abalone, swam and surfed in the pacific, and uncovered mole crabs, nudibranchs, chitons, two baby octopuses, and too many more critters than we can list here. What a week of sun and salt and wonder!
Backcountry Trailworking Mission MIDterm
Students in Backcountry Trailwork & Exploration cleared nearly one mile of extremely overgrown trail in the San Rafael Wilderness. The wintery weather (even some snow!) was no match for them as they learned how to care for themselves and one another in the backcountry while leaving one of our local trails much better than they found it.
Back at the Ranch MIDterm
In the Back at the Ranch MIDterm, students expanded a range of skills, and, together with their horses, rode the ranch and Midland trails, moved cattle on the property and conducted ranch work. Their mid-week, on-campus camp-out with their horses was another highlight.
Want to learn more about the rodear work (teaching cattle to remain close together in their herd) students were learning in this MIDterm? Click here.
Build a Paipo MIDterm
Using red cedar recycled from old Upper Yard cabins, students built paipos (bodyboards) from scratch with hand tools. Students learned about the hydrodynamics of paipo design, then spent two days with their new boards at Refugio Beach and Emma Wood State Beach. They quickly discovered that their handmade paipos could glide through the water much quicker than an average boogie board!
Linoleum Printmaking MIDterm
In this week-long art intensive, students learned how to create images that communicate an idea or message, how to carve their sketches into linoleum, and then how to transfer their carved linoleum into a print. The multimedia experience focused on improving drawing and sketching skills, learning to use linoleum carving tools, and understanding color theory and color scheme printing for visual compositions. Students were asked to create different kinds of prints, including “still lifes,” “landscapes,” “portraits,” as well as graphic design and multicolor prints. To inspire students in their landscape creations, the group field-tripped to Refugio Beach State Park, where they were treated to beautiful landscapes and natural objects (seaweed, seashells, etc.) as well as a great meal.
Traditional Blacksmithing MIDterm
Students used traditional blacksmithing techniques to forge sloyd knives. Students began by burning firewood to create the charcoal needed to run the forges. They then heated salvaged steel from tractor springs and worked in pairs to unwind the coiled metal into the desired starting material needed for blacksmithing. Students then forged, annealed, hardened and tempered their blades before carving the oak handles for their knives.
Using forensics, the study of investigating how a crime happened, students were introduced to several criminal cases concerning murder and theft, explored some of the trials, broke down the cases, and evaluated the decisions that were made. Students learned about how evidence is collected, analyzed and used to determine guilt. They made teeth impressions to understand how evidence was used to help convict Ted Bundy of his crimes, applied Locard’s Principle to analyze fingerprints and shoe prints, employed pen chromatography to understand that not all black markers are made the same way and that this fact can help in finding evidence of a ransom note, and learned how DNA and hair fiber analysis can link a crime scene to the offender.
Continue exploring the Midland experience