The UGA Interdisciplinary Field Program (IFP) is an eight-week course in introductory Geology, Anthropology, and Ecology that travels throughout the Western U.S. during summer semester. It uniquely integrates basic concepts from each discipline and applies them to North American landscapes through hands-on learning in a mobile, outdoor classroom. The IFP is a rewarding and challenging program co-sponsored by the UGA Geology Department and Honors Program. Students learn to balance life and learning in the field, while developing important technical skills useful to career and professional development (e.g., maintaining a field notebook of academic observations, producing written reports, and creating maps).
The goals of the program are to 1) provide students a science-based, interdisciplinary understanding of the natural processes that formed and continue to shape our environment, 2) understand how humans and other organisms are dependent upon, interact with, and alter the Earth’s landscape, and 3) predict how variation in environmental changes and adaptations will reshape life on Earth. The IFP fosters critical thinking skills by presenting multiple working hypotheses in discussions of past and current scientific questions and environmental issues.
The IFP begins in early June and spends several days of classroom and field instruction at the UGA Marine Institute on Sapelo Island, Georgia. From there, the course travels west via the Desert Southwest and arrives on the Pacific coast in the San Francisco Bay area approximately four weeks into the trip. The route then heads north through the Pacific Northwest before heading back east through the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains.
Along the way, the group visits some of the country’s most spectacular national parks and monuments, including the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Crater Lake, and Yellowstone. Students have the opportunity to challenge themselves physically on famous hiking trails such as the Narrows in Zion National Park and up Mount St. Helens in Washington and to explore fantastic cities such as Las Vegas and San Francisco on days off. See our planned itinerary for the next summer trip (as well as schedules from past years).
The program travels by van, moving every few days to new campsites. Nearly all accommodations are in campgrounds, which range from developed (with hot showers and laundry facilities) to primitive (with pit toilets and no running water). Students provide their own camping gear. Cooks travel with the group and drive a support truck, which carries the camping gear and kitchen facilities. In camp, students assist with various chores, such as loading/unloading, cleaning, and meal preparation.
Days are long and the work is demanding, but IFP participants are rewarded with great memories and friendships that last a lifetime!
A Unique Hands-On Education
The IFP is led by a rotating team of UGA faculty and staff. We teach the fundamental concepts taught in any geology, anthropology, and ecology classroom, but in an unconventional format. Our coverage of topics is dictated by what we encounter in the field, rather than the order in which they are presented in a typical textbook. See our general course outline for an idea of where we go and what we cover. Although, keep in mind, no two years are exactly the same!
Who can participate?
The IFP is suited for students from diverse academic backgrounds; there are no prerequisites. In fact, high school seniors who will be entering a university in the fall are welcome. Some of our students are majors in geology, anthropology, or ecology. However, most participants are not science majors and use IFP to fulfill core science credit. All that is required is a love for the outdoors and a curiosity about the natural world.
Students can earn up to 15 hours (a full semester) of credit, depending on the specific courses for which they register. See our course credit options for more details.