Education with Altitude

December 6, 2010 by · Comments Off 

By Wesleigh Ogle

Clay Zamperini wakes up to the crisp mountain air, with the scent of piñon pines wafting through his casita window, and then suddenly remembers- he has to go to class. This realization, usually accompanied by a sense of dread for most students, is overshadowed by his anticipation for a school day unlike any other.

He’ll spend the rest of the day in Taos attending class outside on a picnic bench, mountain biking on the many trails on and off campus, and he’ll end the night with a bonfire surrounded by new friends and spectacular constellations.

SMU-in-Taos, nestled in the Kit Carson National Forest in Northern New Mexico, may be the university’s best-kept secret. Fort Burgwin spans about 300 acres and is located 9 miles away from town, providing students the chance to escape the noise, lights and busyness of Dallas.

The campus sits directly above the remains of a pre-civil war era fort. Ninety years after the fort was abandoned in 1860, archaeologist Fred Wendorf discovered the remains and was given $10,000 by the landowner to build a research center. When Wendorf came to SMU in the 1960s, he brought the center with him. In the late 1970s the campus was opened to undergraduate students and offered a wider variety of courses.

“It was offered partly to give our students, who couldn’t really afford to go abroad for a whole semester, the option of an off campus experience,” Assistant Director Suellen Turner said.

Although Taos is not technically “abroad,” it feels like it to many. Students can experience as much cultural diversity in the small town as they might in London. Even the breathtaking landscape is diverse.

“You go from the highest peak in New Mexico to the deepest gorge in the Southwest in a matter of 15 miles,” Executive Director Mike Adler said.

Students choose to study in Taos for various reasons: to fulfill general education requirements, for internships, to experience an alternative to summer school in Dallas, or to simply enjoy the outdoors. No matter the reason for attending, all students leave with the hope of revisiting the majestic landscape.

“What better time to get those [general education] requirements taken care of than out in Taos and having fun?” Lauren Rodgers, a junior psychology major, said.

Life at Fort Burgwin rivals that on the main campus. With only 10 to 15 students in each class, the relationship with faculty is much more intimate. Students can even eat meals with them. “Most of our faculty don’t set office hours, their office hours are all day,” Turner said.

Zamperini, who graduated in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in advertising, said, “The [photography] teacher gave us more freedom in doing our projects, and also was able to help students individually on a level that wouldn’t be possible in a larger classroom setting.”

The faculty are given the freedom to tailor their courses to the lifestyle and culture that Taos has to offer. History professor John Mears said, “I teach my classes more informally in Taos and orient the subject matter around the Northern New Mexico region.”

As a result, the learning experience is much more hands-on. Students who are studying Georgia O’Keefe will actually see where she lived and painted. In Dr. John Ubelaker’s botany class, students hike through the mountains to study the flowers in bloom. The art and architecture class visits sites like the Taos Pueblo and participates in the re-mudding of the St. Francis church.

“It’s like a ‘living’ classroom. The kinds of activities we do in Mountain Sports teach students about themselves in ways you just can’t get in the classroom,” Wellness professor Ann Weil said. These activities include rock climbing, white-water rafting, horseback riding, fly-fishing, mountain biking, and even climbing the tallest peak in New Mexico.

Calder Lamb, a junior economics major, agrees. “Taos was much more conducive to learning than the main SMU campus. It allowed me to learn in a stress-free environment,” he said.

Students are also able to form stronger bonds with their classmates. Elyse Murphy, a junior CCPA major said, “Everyone was friends in Taos and there was always something to do. There really is a different energy there than in Dallas.”

Learning and exploring are not just limited to classes. Off campus, students experience the abundance of history, culture and diversity rooted in Taos. There are a number of ancient sites, art galleries, shopping, and fun bars. Students go on class field trips and can visit neighboring Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

Griffin Klement, a senior advertising and environmental studies major and economics minor, said, “One of the most appealing aspects of the town is the rich history and culture it offers; nearly every establishment aside from the Wal-Mart has a story.”

SMU-in-Taos is also a wonderful experience for professors. “I appreciate the history of Taos, the closeness to nature that I feel while I am there, and above all, the distinctive cultural dynamics between Native Americans, Hispanics, and Anglos,” Mears said.

If the many exciting experiences in Taos are not enough to convince students to attend, Turner says the reduced tuition might just do the trick. With the Dallas campus now at $1,376 an hour, SMU-in-Taos costs $825 an hour in May and August and just $745 an hour in June. In addition, students can apply for scholarships, grants and Resident Assistant positions.

Applications and course listings are available online or in Blanton 338. The deadline for May term is March 4 and June and August are taken on a first come first serve basis until classes are full.

To students who claim they don’t like the outdoors, Adler says, “The important things in life that you look back on are things that challenged you. That’s why Taos is there, for people who want to push themselves, go out of their comfort zone, and do something unique.”

Or as Klement says it, “Go to Taos, make some new friends, challenge yourself to do something you’ve never done before, then do it.”

VIDEO: Full Court Press – Women’s Basketball Falls in WNIT

March 18, 2010 by · Comments Off 

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SMU Women Fall In First Round of WNIT

March 18, 2010 by · Comments Off 

By Robby Gillespie

The SMU women’s basketball team lost their second consecutive postseason game, 66-51, Wednesday to New Mexico in the first round of the WNIT in Albuquerque, NM, after shooting 28 percent from the field.

The Mustangs trailed by only five at halftime but were outscored 34-24 in the second half.

New Mexico (19-12, 9-7 Mountain West) finished sixth in their final conference standings, while SMU finished third in the C-USA final regular season standings.

After receiving a bye in the first round of the C-USA tournament, SMU (20-11, 10-6 C-USA) lost to UAB in the semi-finals, 64-55. The Mustangs were riding a four game win streak to finish the regular season with 20 wins for the third consecutive year, but that winning play discontinued in their next two games.

The loss marks the final game for SMU’s senior leader Brittany Gilliam, who led the Mustangs in scoring with 14.7 points per game. She scored 14 in the loss to New Mexico.

Sophomore Christine Elliot, who sat the last regular season game with an injury, earned her sixth double-double of the season with eleven points and eleven rebounds. Haley Day added 12 points and Jillian Samuels scored eleven.

The Lobos shot over 48 percent in the second half to secure the win as the Mustangs only made 35 percent of their shots in the second period. New Mexico used its hot shooting to open up a ten point lead in the first three minutes of the second half. SMU shot a near season low 28 percent for the game.

The Mustangs, who often rely on their three point shooting, finished a season worst 0-17 from behind the arc. New Mexico was knocked down eight of its 17 three-point attempts.

Campus News Blog: SMU Taos Still Available

March 17, 2009 by · Comments Off 

Posted by Holly Roberts

You still have time to sign up for an exciting learning adventure in Taos. SMU-in-TAOS is located in the mountains of New Mexico. The campus has 24 building structures including ten adobe dormitories. Open-air courtyards and common areas in the dormitories with wood burning fireplaces sound amazing. To top it off there is a tennis, basketball, and a sand volleyball court. Remember, it is not too late to apply. The deadline for the fall term is April 2, 2009 at 12 noon.