Place-based education makes use of experiential, “hands-on”, learning opportunities that center the local community and environment as a laboratory for discovery and the development of new skills and ideas. The kinds of instruction and learning that result from this focus present moments of deep reflection and understanding that are often difficult to structure as part of more traditional educational activities.

Students in my history classes have interviewed community members and
consulted local archives to learn about the Chicano movement in the San Luis
Valley and visited the Fort Garland Museum and Cultural Center to reflect upon
the role of public history in narrating the history of the borderlands of southern
Colorado. – Nick Saenz, Associate Professor of History

Adams State University is fortunate to call the San Luis Valley  “home”. Located between the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountains, the San Luis Valley features a variety of fascinating geological and ecological sites, among them farm field in front of Mt. BlancaGreat Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and Wheeler Geologic Area. As one popular tagline goes “Colorado began here”; In fact, the region thrived for centuries as a meeting place for several numerous indigenous communities and boasts the oldest settlements in the state. It remains a vibrant place at the forefront of new technology like renewable solar and production of new commercial crops like hemp and quinoa.

Founded as a “normal school” in 1921, teacher training has always been at the core of Adams State University. The first graduates came from the San Luis Valley and contributed to the region’s growth and vitality, translating classroom learning to the “real world” of rural classrooms, farms, industry, and beyond. This connection to the land and local community continues at Adams State University today with a broader understanding of place and the potential for even richer educational opportunities. A university since 2012, Adams State has grown in concert with the evolution of the local community.

Place-based education takes several forms at Adams State University, dating to the very first moments that students spend on campus during New Student Orientation. Students further develop a sense of the extraordinary nature of the San Luis Valley through the exploration of special topics in First Year Seminars and other first-year coursework. Writing assignments and other classroom assessments at all levels invite students to explore the place in which they figure as part of larger ecological, social, and cultural systems. Many students also pursue undergraduate research. In recent years, undergraduates have partnered with faculty and local professionals to examine the use of abandoned mines by wildlife, identify the preservation needs of Río Grande weavings, and test the chemical composition of water in mountain ponds. Other students have taken part in an archeological field school at Fort Massachusetts, located just a short distance from Mount Blanca. A robust internship program in several academic programs presents a valuable opportunity for students to consider career opportunities in a traditional workplace environment, which grant them new perspectives on the San Luis Valley. In sum, these experiences offer a broader awareness of the San Luis Valley and skills that promote lifelong learning by stoking a desire to discover the exceptional in every place.

For more information on place-based education at Adams State University, visit: Community Works Institute