University Professor Works with National Collegiate Honors Council to Create Experiential Learning Project at Crater Lake National Park

Since 2018 Oregon Institute of Technology, “Oregon Tech,” associate professor Christopher Syrnyk, Ph.D., has been working with Crater Lake National Park (CRLA) on a National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) project for their Partners in the Parks committee. Created as NCHC service/stewardship projects to encourage experiential learning and community building in the nation’s national parks, Partners in the Parks provides many students who are sometimes unable to go on a study abroad learning experience another opportunity, which is more affordable, for meaningful learning and travel experience.

An official NCHC project, the University’s Honors Program sponsored a Partners in the Parks project at Crater Lake National Park Aug. 5-9, bringing 11 students from six different states (some from as far away as Massachusetts and Florida), representing seven different university Honors Colleges and Programs, to Oregon Tech and Crater Lake National Park. The group met with four different National Park Service Rangers for a variety of “Ranger-led” hikes and experiences in the national park, including hiking the highest peak, Mount Scott and the second-highest, Garfield Peak, as well as taking a Ranger-led boat tour of Crater Lake itself. The group interacted with the CRLA historian and a visiting professor from Portland State University.

“The Partners in the Park experience at Crater Lake allowed me to connect with people and nature in a new and fascinating way,” shared Ciara Sandefur, an Eastern Kentucky University student. “I was surrounded by strangers that quickly became my friends as we bonded over the natural beauty and history of Crater Lake. From this trip, I became more knowledgeable about Crater Lake and how society is connected or can become connected to this National Park.”The relationships gained from this project are significant toward educational and professional experiences for me and my students,” said Dr. Syrnyk. “Through this project, Oregon Tech has reinvigorated a significant relationship with CRLA’s historian, Steve Mark, who represents over 30 years of experience with the National Park Service, and associate research professor at Portland State University, Dr. Douglas Deur, Ph. D., who graciously joined us to discuss his research and a specific article written with the direction of local Tribes, ‘A Most Sacred Place: The Significance of Crater Lake among the Indians of Southern Oregon’ (Deur, 2002), which the students read in preparation for this project. Dr. Deur has a longstanding relationship with many Tribes along the West Coast, and works with national parks across the country to document Tribes’ histories and interests; he spent an entire day with us at Crater Lake, discussing what makes this landscapes of this park and many other parks like it of enduring importance to Tribes. Securing Dr. Deur for this project also opens up potential doors for research and improved interaction between Tribes, Partners in the Parks, and the National Collegiate Honors Council,” explained Dr. Syrnyk.

This project is the first to be produced by an Honors College or Program in the state of Oregon. Dr. Syrnyk is the director of the Honors Program at Oreg​on Tech: a program that provides select Oregon Tech students with a complementary academic curriculum and a collection of extracurricular learning experiences that promote a more well-rounded future career professional, a socially responsible person, and connected and liberally educated student. Students of the program must have a minimum GPA of 3.5, complete 18 hours of honors courses while at Oregon Tech and participate in honors projects and activities.

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