WNMU instructors head into the wild, students in tow.
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Western New Mexico University’s natural science department offers the only undergraduate botany, zoology and forest/wildlife law enforcement degrees in New Mexico. Through the Gila National Forest, WNMU faculty demonstrate the concepts students encounter in their textbooks to open their eyes to how their knowledge may be applied in the outdoors. This newsletter highlights some of the ways in which WNMU students learn in the great outdoors.
What’s inside:
  • How the Gila is Incorporated Into Natural Sciences Courses
  • Studying for a Geology 101 Exam in the Gila
  • Why Vote on GO Bond D
  • Plants of the Gila
  • Wilderness First Responder Training for Professors
  • The Wilderness Act's Inception at WNMU
  • Outdoor Leadership Studies Minor
  • Accreditation To Offer More Courses
The World Is WNMU’s Classroom
"The 3.3-million-acre Gila National Forest is a natural outdoor laboratory, which I take advantage of in my classes. On any day of the week, I can load up my students and drive 15 or 30 minutes to examples of riparian forest, woodland, coniferous forest and rangeland habitats. I can think of no better way to get students excited about field biology than to study organisms in the field."
— WNMU biology professor Dr. Bill Norris
During a recent dendrology lab, WNMU's Dr. Bill Norris helps students explore the variety of plants in Aspen Park on Signal Peak, just north of Silver City.
Dirt is not a geology term.
“Is this rock happy?” Dr. Corrie Neighbors asks. She’s pointing at an outcrop that’s crumbling into the ditch alongside the dirt road where she and her students are walking. “No,” she says. “This is a highly faulted area. That’s what makes interesting geology.”

A WNMU Geology 101 class has traveled just a few minutes from campus on this Friday afternoon to “experience real-world rocks” before their test next week.

Dr. Neighbors climbs onto the rock outcropping, encouraging her students to do the same. She pulls out chunks of a red streak in the hillside. “When do seams of oxidation happen?” she inquires. A voice answers, “When magma rises.” Dr. Neighbors confirms that this seam indicates a bake zone.

After running the class through the agents of metamorphosis, she asks students to verbally label the types of rock in each segment of the hillside: sedimentary conglomerate, igneous intrusion, metamorphic rock. Finally, she tells the class, “As junior geologists, you’re going to sketch this outcrop,” and instructs them to design a scale.
WNMU's Plants of the Gila Photo Archive

WNMU has 1,100 of the 1,500 vascular plant species in the Gila Wilderness depicted in its online photo archive. Organized by family, scientific name and common name, the archive was assembled by WNMU faculty, including Drs. Russ Kleinman and Bill Norris.
“The Plant Taxonomy class and the Plant Taxonomy lab I teach prepare students for work with the Forest Service by introducing them to plant identification and classification.” — WNMU plant taxonomy instructor Russ Kleinman, M.D.
WFRs for All
Nationwide, universities are closing field programs because of the risk involved. Instead, WNMU paid for several faculty members to become wilderness first responders. “Going outside with students is hard. It adds to our workload, but it enriches learning,” WNMU Associate Professor of Biology and Outdoor Leadership Studies Dr. Kathy Whiteman said. (Pictured is WNMU's Dr. Jost in moulage for a wilderness first aid class.)
Did the Wilderness Act begin on campus?
Maybe. WNMU’s eighth president, H.W. James, chaired the Citizen’s Wilderness Study Committee, a.k.a. the James committee, which formed in opposition to the U.S. Forest Service’s 1951 proposal to reduce the size of the Gila Wilderness by one third. The principle author of the Wilderness Act, Howard Zahniser, sat on this committee, and incorporated language from some of the James Committee’s testimony in the Wilderness Act, which was introduced in 1956 and passed in 1964.
Minor in Outdoor Leadership Studies
Sprouted from the outdoor program, WNMU’s minor in outdoor leadership studies gives students leadership skills they can apply in a variety of outdoor settings and in life generally.

Beyond learning basic outdoor skills like using a compass and pitching a tent, students practice group management, get certified as wilderness first responders, become versed in lost person behavior and study risk management. Applied components include work in WNMU’s gear rental shop and local businesses or training and missions with Mustang Search and Rescue.

“There’s a misconception that we’re flitting around outside and not doing anything, that it’s just fun and easy. Other universities offer Ph.Ds. in outdoor leadership,” Dr. Whiteman said. “The knowledge and experience acquired through an outdoor leadership studies minor is as useful for students majoring in forest/wildlife law enforcement as for business students.”
Getting Certified To Certify Others
WNMU is striving toward accreditation in wilderness first responder and wilderness first aid training so that the university can offer these courses without contracting another company. “There are local people who need those certifications and have to travel to get them. We’d like to keep the dollars in this community rather than us spending thousands to go get trained elsewhere,” Dr. Whiteman says.
Join WNMU students, staff and faculty on monthly guided hikes.

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1000 W. College Ave., Silver City, NM 88061

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