During the Field Semester, you will live for two months with 10-12 other students in Montana's Swan Valley on the Beck Homestead. The Homestead was originally settled by Finnish immigrants in 1916. It encompasses 80 acres of forest, pasture and Swan River frontage. Beyond the property boundaries lie public lands and corporate timber lands all available for exploration on foot or bicycle. The nearest year-around residence is several miles away.
Student accommodations include the "Barn," a cookhouse and washhouse. Dorm rooms and our classroom are located in the Barn, a renovated, historic log dairy barn. You will be assigned a comfortable room on the second floor with 1-2 other roommates. Rooms are equipped with bunkbeds, lamps, a small nightstand and closet. Space is available to store extra gear while you are here. The main floor combines our classroom and a cozy lounge area. Evening quiet hours help create a calm atmosphere for study and conversation.
A washhouse with showers, sinks and toilets is adjacent to the Barn. We have made every attempt to create a climate of resource efficiency and self-sufficiency on the homestead. The toilets are modern composting facilities. If you don’t know much about composting toilets before you arrive, you’ll not only be well-educated about them by the time the Semester is finished, you’ll probably want to go home and convert your own family’s house to a composting and graywater system. But we’ll leave that discussion for another time… Water is heated with a wood-fired boiler that supplies both the barn with in-floor heat and the wash house with hot water for sinks and showers. Students help cut and stack wood (logged from the Homestead and elsewhere in the Valley) to run the boiler.
The supply list provides a detailed description of all the equipment that you need during the 9-day backpack trip into the Bob Marshall, as well as what you will need to bring for the rest of your stay at the NwC facility. (Click here to download a PDF of the supply list)
Students eat meals together each day in our cookhouse, which is equipped with a full kitchen and dining area. This building was the original homestead cabin on the property and has been renovated for use now as our cooking facility. Students will often have local residents and class speakers as nightly dinner guests.
Pairs of students are assigned to 3-day meal rotations. During this period, they are given a budget and are responsible for grocery shopping and preparing meals. Students consistently remark that this “chore” was one of the high points of the Semester- getting to work with one other person to prepare nutritious, creative food for the group. Occasionally (5-6 times during the semester) dinners will be prepared by outside help when time is at a premium.
We have always been able to accommodate most types of dietary needs and preferences. Since the students do the grocery shopping and food preparation, this quickly gets worked out during the Semester. If you are concerned, please give us a call. The local Swan Valley store is a small market providing basic essentials. To purchase "specialty" foods (organic produce or meat, whole-wheat baked goods, wheat-free products, etc.) students can make the 80 mile trip to Missoula or Kalispell on days off; otherwise we will occasionally be in one of these two towns during travel days where we will purchase bulk items. Many of the Fall veggies come from the NwC garden and other local gardens in the Swan Valley. You are welcome to bring along any food that you cannot do without. ** We highly recommend bringing favorite recipes or cookbooks to spark your creative genius during meal planning.
Pairs of students are assigned group chores every four days. These chores include grocery shopping and cooking; kitchen clean-up (organizing recycling, sweeping and taking out the compost); and maintaining a tidy 'Barn'! (Remember it is our main office, indoor classroom and you home for 2 months!)
In keeping with our emphasis on "low-tech" solutions to daily living and on self-sufficiency, we have purposefully created a curriculum that does not rely on computers for student learning. Therefore we don't provide computers or internet access for student use, except during your Independent Study Projects. We do not expect students to bring a personal computer in order to excel in their academic work. All written assignments are recorded long-hand in personal journals. Just as one of our goals during the Semester is to revive practical woodsman and outdoor skills, we also highly encourage students to bring stationery and stamps so they can resurrect the dying art of handwriting personal letters. The local library offers internet access during the semester and students are free to visit the library during their free time.
Frequently, students will ask if they can bring their own laptop. You are welcome to bring a laptop if you feel you can’t live without it for two months. Again, however, no assignments require the use of a computer.
Phone time for student use is extremely limited, in part because we want all Field Semester students to be fully engaged with the group and daily activities and partly because we have only one phone line for Northwest Connections' business. Past students have remarked that they truly appreciated “de-linking” themselves from the ubiquitous technology of phones and computers and settling into the natural rhythm of rural life. This 'escape' from the 'tech' world offers students the chance to build upon their own observational skills, keen senses, and creative minds. That said, students share a phone in the cookhouse, but use is limited. There is no cell phone access in the Swan Valley.
In keeping with our emphasis on establishing a close-knit community amongst Field Semester students and staff, we encourage students to make the most of their relationships during the brief time available here. Students are welcome to have visitors once or twice during the Semester but we cannot accommodate overnight stays. Guests are expected to take part in course activities or chores if their visit coincides with such time.
Our schedule is an intense one, with classes running all day most days of the Semester. You can expect a day off every two to three weeks. During days off, students are free to do what they need, including leaving the Swan Valley, doing laundry at the Swan Centre, hiking, shopping or sleeping!
We also aim for some down time during class days, when students are free from meal preparation or chores; however because we chose to make the Semester a short, intensive experience we have packed most days full of activity. It helps to come in to the Semester with an attitude that this will be a jam-packed experience and you can take a breather in November and December when other students are still in school.
Because of the nature of our program, there isn't exactly a typical daily routine. However, you can expect a rhythm to develop during certain portions of the Semester, as described below.
For 8 days near the beginning of the Semester we will be backpacking in the Swan Mountains and western Bob Marshall Wilderness area. We will establish two or three main base camps along our 40-mile route. From these camps we will head off for day hikes and field assignments. Students are expected to actively participate in all aspects of the trip, including route finding, cooking, clean-up, hanging food, filtering water and, of course, all academic work. This can make for long days, but also for a deeply rewarding experience.
"Typical" Academic Day
Back at the Homestead, a typical day starts at 7-7:30 with breakfast. From 8-10 students might be working on a reading assignment and written response followed by a group discussion. At 10 we might head out into the field for a tour of a logging project, to complete an amphibian survey, or to meet with the head of a local environmental group.
Lunch is usually eaten in the field. From 5-7 p.m. students have free time to relax, go for a run, or -if they are on dinner detail- to put a good meal together for the group. Evenings are usually reserved for homework; occasionally we will meet with a speaker or attend a public meeting. Musical instruments are often brought out to accompany nightly activities.
Local Community Excursions
At times we will travel for two to three days to visit places and people outside the Swan Valley. We will spend three days in the Blackfoot Valley during late September and then head for the Flathead Valley during mid-October. While in the Blackfoot we will set up a hunting-style camp, with wall tent and small wood stove, and meet with ranchers and fisheries biologists during the day. In the Flathead, we'll sleep on the floor at the home of friends who will take us on a tour of their stewardship logging project and accompany us to look at the recent burn in Glacier National Park. Although these two areas are close to the Swan Valley, students will observe the differences and similarities in these adjacent rural communities.
During the Independent Study, the final 8 days of the Semester, the schedule changes radically. Students are off working on their own projects; there is no set schedule. Some live with a mentor or apprentice for a week and return only to prepare for their oral presentation. Some students do field work during the day and are back at the Homestead in the evenings for dinner. It is what you make it!
You can expect similar types of assignments as you would in any other university setting. The bulk of assignments revolve around field sketching, written responses to readings and guest speakers, and pop field quizzes. There will be final assessments, as well as group assignments for each course.
In mid-October, students leave the Homestead to spend a three day weekend with local families. These families represent a variety of personalities in the Swan Valley and span the socio-economic, political and educational spectrums. An attitude of intellectual curiosity and a willingness to embrace a possibly very different lifestyle set our students apart from the norm and help everyone get the best educational experience out of their homestay.
Examples of past Independent Study projects have included the following:
Whitebark Pine population - analysis and monitoring in the Bob Marshall Wilderness
Community Forests, Internationally, Nationally and Locally. Land stewardship and land ethics among long-time Swan Valley residents as told through oral histories
Organic Gardening in Cold Climates - A focus on oral histories
The culture of hunting and road use - a study of road closure effectiveness during hunting season in the Swan Valley
Preparing local plants for medicinal use - a study of tinctures, oil infusions an balms
The economics of small-scale logging operations
The ecology and management of private, man-made ponds in the Swan Valley
Ecology and management of Bull Trout
Ecosystem Management at Coyote Forest
Building rustic furniture with local materials - sustainable harvest and local economics
Skinning and tanning techniques for small mammals - a look at the skill of trapping and the economic fluctuation over time
During the last full day of the Semester, students present their Independent Study projects to the whole Field Semester group as well as guests from the community.
Students taking Northwest Connections' courses have come from all over the country. A sample of schools represented amongst our alumni include the following:
Evergreen State College
Iowa State University
Lewis and Clark College
New College of Florida
New College of Florida
Northern Arizona University
Pennsylvania State University
Slippery Rock University
Texas A&M University
University of Delaware
University of Denver
University of Michigan
University of Montana
University of Oregon
University of Vermont
University of Washington
University of Wisconsin @ Madison
University of Wisconsin @ Stevens Point
Virginia Tech University
Warren Wilson College
Washington State University
Students also come to our courses from a variety of academic backgrounds. A few of the more common majors of our students include the following:
Wildlife Biology/Wildlife Conservation
Students are frequently interested in opportunities to get involved in activities, both academic and otherwise, before and after the Semester. Especially since the Semester is out at the end of October, you may want to stay on in western Montana for other experiences. The following are a few opportunities to look in to:
Aerie School for Backcountry Medicine, which provides the 16-hour Wilderness First Aid training during the Field Skills portion of the Semester, also offers 9-day Wilderness First Responder (WFR) and one-month Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician (WEMT) courses. Both WFR and WEMT courses are offered for Health and Human Performance (HHP) credit through the University of Montana. Contact Aerie at (406.542.9972) or go to their web site for a complete course schedule.
The Program in Ecological Agriculture and Sustainability (PEAS) offers students an opportunity to work in an organic, community garden while studying environmental issues related to agriculture. PEAS offers 10-week summer internships for credit through the University of Montana.
The Glacier Institute offers year-round courses, many for University of Montana credit, in Glacier National Park.
Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are also frequent stops for students coming and going from the field semester.
UM students can expect to have their federal financial aid award apply to Field Semester costs. However, this is a process which requires planning ahead. Following is a set of directions to help facilitate this process. Please let our office know as soon as possible if you will be applying your financial aid to the field semester.
Directions: Go to the UM Financial Aid office and ask for the "Consortium Agreement for Northwest Connections" paperwork.
Once you have the Consortium Agreement paperwork in hand, you will see that it requires three signatures: your signature; Northwest Connections'; and UM Financial Aid Office. First, sign the agreement in box 1.
Next, send the paperwork on to us and we will fill out the "Financial Aid at Host Institution" section and sign it. We will send this form to the UM Financial Aid office.
This process can take as little as a week or as long as a month, depending on the time frame at financial aid and your organizational skills.
It is imperative that we know in advance you are going through this process so we can be in communication with UM as well. We will do everything we can to help you work through this process. Call if you have any questions. Please be sure to have this process done early! You will also need to fill out the 2007/2008 FAFSA as early as possible to expedite this process.
Note: UM Financial aid can be used to cover tuition costs only. Northwest Connections still requires a registration deposit be paid in full to secure your spot in the semester.
Non-University of Montana Students...
Many schools agree to enter into "Consortium Agreements" which essentially allow them to transfer financial aid money to another school one of their students will be attending temporarily.
Your first step will be to find out if your school does Consortium Agreements. If they don't, ask what your options are. If they do, you will need to fill out the appropriate paperwork and have your advisor sign off on it. It will help if you can show your advisor the syllabi for all the courses you will take during the field semester.
Northwest Connections and the University of Montana will need to fill out a statement of costs and perhaps of accreditation. You should send copies of the form to both the University of Montana and Northwest Connections. The University of Montana contact person is:
Customer Service Manager
University of Montana
Financial Aid Office
Missoula, MT 59812
Office: (406) 243-5508 Fax: (406) 243-4930
Please be sure to get this paperwork to us as soon as possible so there won't be delays.
If your school does not do Consortium Agreements, and you do receive federal financial aid, you will need to fill out an In School Deferment Request Form. You can request this form from either UM or our office. This form shows that you were in school at UM so that your loans do not come due unexpectedly.
We will do everything we can to help you through this process; please keep in touch with our office so we can provide you the most up-to-date and useful help.
Note: Your financial aid can be used to cover tuition costs only. Northwest Connections still requires a registration deposit be paid in full to secure your spot in the semester. The full tuition is due by June 10th unless you have worked out other arrangements with our office.
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What is Northwest Connections' drug and alcohol policy?
Student safety is our top priority. Therefore we are unwavering in our drug and alcohol policy: Students may not use nor be under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol while attending the Field Semester, regardless of student age. In addition, neither illegal drugs nor alcohol are allowed on the premises of the Beck Homestead.