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National park experience brings student boost of confidence

Honors students from around U.S. spent week hiking, exploring Crater Lake National Park

Menomonie, Wis. (Sept. 23, 2019) — It was only one week, but University of Wisconsin-Stout student Jessica Kastello expects the memories and the benefits to last a lifetime.

In August, Kastello participated in Partners in the Parks at Crater Lake National Park, near Klamath Falls, Ore. The program is through the National Collegiate Honors Council; Kastello is a member of the Honors College at UW-Stout, which has 600 students.

 The senior from Muskego is glad she accepted the invitation to hike and explore with experts from the National Park Service to cap off her summer.
 
“I wanted to learn about the geological and cultural significance of Crater Lake. Each day was fun and educational but also very challenging. The hikes were physically and mentally taxing, but there’s something about achieving something you didn’t think you could do that strengthens your confidence and clears your mind,” she said.

 After a three-hour hike to the peak of Mount Scott, the park’s high point at 8,934 feet, she and the 10 other students from around the U.S. were afforded a spectacular view. She’ll remember something else about the demanding test, which didn’t involve a computer or a classroom. 

“One of the most valuable skills I learned was that I am far more capable than I think. This is a skill that I can use not only on mountain hikes but also in my classes and future career,” said Kastello, who is majoring in graphic communications

“I’ve never done so much uphill climbing in my life, but the views at the top were definitely worth the effort.”

Students hiked to other landmarks within the park, including Garfield’s Peak and several waterfalls. They also toured the 183,000-acre lake by boat and the crater rim by vehicle.The lake, fed only by rain and snow, is known for its clear water. “The water is such a deep blue that it seems unreal,” Kastello said.

Crater Lake was created from the remnant of a volcano more than 7,700 years ago. The lake is the deepest in the U.S., 1,943 feet, and its water is considered among the purest in the world. “The water is so blue and clean and pure that you can actually drink it straight from the lake,” Kastello said.

The Crater Lake National Park trip was organized by Christopher Syrnyk, director of the honors program at the Oregon Institute of Technology, where students stayed during the week. Daily guides included a park ranger, the park historian and an anthropology professor from the University of Portland. 

Honors College goes beyond the classroom

Chris Ferguson, director of UW-Stout’s Honors College, said Kastello is the second university student to take part in the program. “It’s a great opportunity, both to get out into some of the most beautiful parts of the country but also to learn about the history, the science and the unique culture in each area,” he said. 

Promoting learning beyond the classroom is part of the college’s mission. “We try to provide students in Honors with opportunities to really use the world around them as their textbook, in the hands-on tradition of UW-Stout,” Ferguson said, citing field trips and other college activities beyond campus. 

Students have an Honors College staff adviser and college faculty advisers to help foster academic growth with in-depth courses and through personal growth. “All of that is in place to help students get the most out of their college experience. Students are encouraged to embrace their curiosity, try new things and take risks,” Ferguson said. 

The Honors College at UW-Stout recently celebrated its 25th year. This fall’s enrollment of 600 students is up from about 550 last year.

It was elevated to college status in 2012, becoming only the second Honors College in the UW System. Students are invited to join based on academic qualifications or may apply.

UW-Stout is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes.

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UW-Stout student Jessica Kastello enjoys the view from Garfield’s Peak at Crater Lake National Park during an Honors College summer experience.

UW-Stout student Jessica Kastello