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From Kilimanjaro to the Classroom

Merck Grant to CU Denver Aids Investigation of Experiential Learning

Every parent hopes his or her child will have a Seize the Day! sort of teacher—an inspiring, mind-expanding and life-changing instructor cut from the cloth of films such as Dead Poets Society or Mr. Holland’s Opus. But where do phenomenal teachers come from? How can merely good teachers become truly inspirational?

Brad McLain of CU Denver’s XSci program thinks he has an answer. XSci explores how experiential education can enhance effectiveness and enthusiasm not only for science teachers but for teachers from all fields.

XSci has grown steadily. But with a 2012 $900,000 grant by the Merck Company Foundation, the program has been expanded in a big way. The grant funded a climb up Mount Kilimanjaro, an African safari, research about the impact of these experiences and a national experiential-learning conference for a cohort of Colorado and Michigan teachers.

In 2012, the Colorado teachers who received the Merck grant experienced the adrenaline and learned the hardships and rewards of climbing to the top of the massive, dormant Kilimanjaro volcano, the highest point on the African continent at 19,341 feet above sea level. They navigated the less-traveled Rongai Route up the north side of the mountain, savoring the delicate ecosystems and natural history along the way: a lush green rain forest, forests of giant plants, barren desert plains, snowfields and gaping volcanic craters. By night, they slept in tents. They celebrated on July 12, 2012, when they made the extraordinary Kilimanjaro summit. Their descent was down the Marangu Route on the south side of the mountain.

After the climb, they also had the opportunity to take in an African safari to view lions, elephants, giraffes, zebras, monkeys, baboons, hyenas, cheetahs, vultures and other free-roaming African wildlife. They also gained a new perspective on education and humanity by visiting an orphanage near Lake Manyara.

For student Corinna Woodruff, getting to the top was important. But inspiring her future students will be even more imperative. “I hope my stories and lessons will inspire students to seek adventure, to take risks and to achieve their dreams, whatever they might be.”

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