UW-Waukesha Learns, Bonds off Campus for ‘Immersion Excursions’

The University of Wisconsin-Waukesha’s annual Immersion Excursions will take place Friday, Sept. 28 in the afternoon.

The University of Wisconsin-Waukesha’s annual Immersion Excursions will take place Friday, Sept. 28, in the afternoon. The annual tradition involves faculty and staff taking groups of their students on learning-based field trips throughout the area, followed by food, music and a bonfire at the college’s Field Station in the village of Waterville.

In an effort to increase student engagement, event co-director Ellyn Lem, associate professor of English, started Immersion Excursions in 2004 with former English professor John Allen with a grant from the UW Colleges.

“The idea behind it was to create more commitment from students toward the campus by strengthening relationships outside of the classroom between students and between students and staff,” she said. “In addition, we wanted to ‘open’ the learning opportunities to extend beyond material covered in courses and see what our community had to offer and what we could do for our community, especially since both John and I believe in community service and we hoped some trips would integrate that component.”

Lem said the two part aspect of the day – excursions in the community in individual groups followed by dinner at the Field Station – allows for a good deal of personal interaction earlier in the day and a greater sense of the campus as a whole later on. 

“The Field Station part was very important in that we wanted to give everyone an opportunity to spend time talking with one another and while enjoying the beautiful setting there since too often we are rushing between meetings and classes without much ‘down’ time,” she said.

After Allen left UW-Waukesha, Tony Landowski, director of UW-Waukesha’s Academic Success Center, joined with Lem to co-direct the day.

“Tony has used Immersion Excursions to connect with his staff from the Study Center, especially the tutors, as they generally help (Field Station manager) Marlin Johnson with the important task of seed collection,” Lem said.

This year, Johnson, a retired biology professor, will not only host the bonfire at the Field Station, he plans to take his sustainability class on a tour of the facility and talk them about the process of converting an old farm into sustainable natural communities. 

“I chose the Field Station because I know it best and have guided the restoration project since 1970,” he said. “I have only been teaching this course for two years and am a strong believer in first-hand experiences provided by field trips.”

Johnson said he has always taken students on field trips to place like the Milwaukee Domes, Milwaukee Public Museum and the Waukesha Recycling Center.

“Every spring break I take a group of Ecology Club members on a week-long camping trip to Georgia (Okefenokee Swamp), Tennessee (Smokey Mountains) or Missouri (Ozarks),” he said. “As a biology teacher, I know the positive impact on students of actually seeing and experiencing the real live plants and animals in their natural setting.”

Suzanne Joneson, assistant professor of biological sciences, is participating for the first time this year. Along with Scott Silet, library and media services director, and Tim Thering, associate professor of history, she will be taking students to Milwaukee’s Jones Island Reclamation Facility, where the fertilizer Milorganite is made.

Limited to 10 people, a morning tour of the facility’s central laboratory will be offered. Another tour, open to an unlimited number of people, will take place in the afternoon that covers the history of the facility, its leading role in helping regulate the health of Lake Michigan and how Milorganite is made.

“I chose the venue because it was a place I had wanted to check out for my microbiology course as a possible field trip destination,” Joneson said. “Waste-water treatment depends upon the actions of microbes, and I want the students to see large-scale, socially important, applications of the topic of this course.”

Not only will the trip give students a chance to see alternative career options of a microbiology degree, Joneson said, it will allow her to satisfy her own curiosity.

“Every time I drive down 794, I have a strong urge to get off the freeway and check out the bay on which the facility is located,” she said.

The trip also is beneficial to introductory botany students, who will see that products of microbially-treated wastewater make a wonderfully rich fertilizer (Milorganite) for plants, Jones said.

“I think there’s something for everybody on this tour,” she said.

Through participation in Immersion Excursions, Lem said, students have learned to feel more comfortable with her and are more likely to ask for help after spending time with her not wearing her professor “hat.”

“It takes away the hierarchal relationship as we together have done gardening at homeless shelters, spent time with senior citizens exercising, and making pizzas at an organic farm with ingredients we harvested,” she said. “Ultimately, what I want more than anything from the day is for students to feel that they don’t go to a ‘commuter campus.’

"Instead, they are having similar experiences to those who attend fancy private liberal arts colleges with engaged faculty who don’t stop teaching and learning when the class session is over.”


UW–Waukesha has the largest enrollment among the 13 UW Colleges campuses with more than 2,000 students.  These freshman/sophomore campuses and UW Colleges Online comprise the UW Colleges. They offer an associate of arts and sciences degree and prepare students of all ages and backgrounds for baccalaureate and professional programs. In addition, UW-Waukesha offers several collaborative bachelor’s degrees through UW-Milwaukee and UW-Oshkosh.

For information about programs, admission or financial aid, contact the Student Services office at 262-521-5040 or visit the Web at www.waukesha.uwc.edu. You can follow the campus on Facebook or Twitter.

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