Highway 101 Revisited: History, Literature, Music, and Ecology

Fall 2019
Winter 2020
Spring 2020
Class Size: 75
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

music composition
ecology, vertebrate biology

“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike ... We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”—John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley in Search of America

The academic disciplines of biology, music, and American studies will converge in this interdisciplinary exploration of life, history, culture, and the arts along Highway 101. “The 101”—which stretches from northern Washington state to Southern California—is a breathtaking excursion through a rich and diverse universe of plants, animals, people, and their environments. At the core of our program is a 10-week research project that will place students at various points along Highway 101 (including Olympia) for self-designed projects in science, music, creative writing, ethnography, or other fields. Faculty will devote fall quarter and the first half of winter quarter to preparing students for the journey. After 10 weeks “on the road” (physically and intellectually), students will return to campus and, for the remainder of spring quarter, shape and refine their projects into public presentations for the entire program.

Program activities include seminars, science labs, music and writing workshops, film screenings, and field trips. The development of strong critical thinking, reading, and writing skills will be at the core of our program expectations, and students’ intellectual and personal growth will be showcased in their capstone projects.

In the American studies component of this program, we will explore the richness and complexity of the American experience, including “our unity-in-diversity, our oneness in manyness” (Ralph Ellison), and “the beauty and the terror” of our history (James Baldwin). We will immerse ourselves in American narratives, especially those that are born of journeys, and write our own stories, primarily in the form of expository and creative nonfiction writing, and ethnographies. As Joan Didion simply, yet eloquently stated, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

The biology portion of this program will provide students with a full course in General Ecology: behavioral ecology, species interactions, community and ecosystem ecology. In lab we will cover a range of techniques and methodologies in field ecology. The work you do in this aspect of the program will provide important preparation for students who want to go on to more advanced programs in Environmental Studies as well as those interested in pursuing graduate work in ecology or a career in wildlife biology or natural resource management at the tribal, state, or federal level.

Our music studies will center on “songs of the open road,” from folk ballads to song cycles by Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and others. We'll explore song and lyric writing, audio soundscapes, and film soundtracks as ways of evoking movement, time, and places near and far. Students with practices as artists, in any discipline, can share work in progress and garner critique and inspiration via Friday afternoon "salons," incorporating guest speakers and studies of art, music, and films that comment on, or bring together, the week's work.

So, join us as we take trips ... and trips take us.

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in:

biology, environmental studies, humanities, and education.


Credits per quarter

Online learning:
  • Fall and Winter: Hybrid Online Learning - This offering delivers < 25% of its instruction online, rather than via face-to-face contact between you and your instructors.
  • Spring Complete Online Learning - This offering delivers all of its instruction online.
Special expenses:

Costs will vary depending on individual student projects; students will need to budget for their travel, lodging, and food if they pursue a project away from their home base.


$100 in Fall and Winter for entrance fees.

Class Standing: Sophomore–Senior
Class Size: 75

Scheduled for: Day

Final schedule and room assignments:

First meeting:

Monday, March 30, 2020 - 10:00 am
Purce Hall 5 - Classroom

Located in: Olympia

2020-03-27Spring student fee removed due to field trip cancellation
2019-04-26$100 fee added to each quarter