Connecting With Volcanoes, Hawaiian Culture

Connecting With Volcanoes, Hawaiian Culture

While the conditioning required to be in shape for volleyball and hiking may differ, first-year students Lauren Ferguson and Rachel Spencer were thankful to have a fitness base for their field trip to Hawai'i during the break between the fall and spring semesters.

The Albion volleyball student-athletes joined about 30 of their classmates as the learning in the geology-based Mountains and Oceans and education-based Mauka and Makai first-year seminars culminated during a 10-day field trip to Kona and Hilo.

A Troy native, Ferguson arrived at Albion with a concentration in the Carl A. Gerstacker Institute for Business and Management and an expectation to double-major in Spanish and international business. The exposure to geology from professor Carrie Menold, however, grabbed her attention enough to register for the department's introductory class this semester.

"I picked the first-year experience for the field trip to Hawaiʻi, but the class opened my eyes to something new," Ferguson, who remains committed to her Spanish major, said. "We saw lava flows while hiking volcanoes. I had never hiked in my life and we would go all the way down to the caldera of the volcano. I don't know how to explain it other than to say it's mind-blowing. I would have never seen anything like it if I had not gone on the field trip."

Of course, the hiking involved in reaching the bottom of the caldera (the bowl-shaped depression formed during very large eruptions when the peak of the volcano collapses into an empty reservoir left by erupting lava) meant the class had to make the steep climb out. Kilauea caldera was formed hundreds of years ago.

"We never talked about [the hikes] in class but they were rigorous," Spencer, a Dexter High School graduate, said. "You're going up and down and walking across craters. It's not like a nice cement path. You had to walk on unstable rocks.

"The first hike through Kilauea caldera was the longest, and it was rough," she added. "There was a beautiful view when we started. We would finish one crater and then Dr. Menold would say we were going down to another one. The walk back up felt it like it took forever because you don't realize how steep it is. You don't realize how far down you are until you have to start walking up. When you are standing at the top of the crater looking down the people look like specks."

The highest elevation the students reached was a drive up Mauna Kea  9,000 feet above Hilo Bay, where they watched the sunset.

"It was difficult to breathe because the air felt thin, but the sunset was my favorite part of the trip, by far," Spencer said. "We realized how high up we were and how we could take it all in. We were above the clouds – it was clear – and it was the clearest I could ever see the stars."

Education professor Suellyn Henke, who taught at the University of Hawai'i-Hilo before coming to Albion in 2002, aims to give students in the Mauka and Makai course an understanding, appreciation, and respect for the history and cultures of the peoples of Hawai'i that provides students with opportunities to reflect upon their own cultural moorings and belief systems.

While Ferguson and Spencer were students in the geology-based first-year-experience course, they still participated with the students in the education class on a trip to Kamehameha Schools, where they learned about Hawaiian culture and the impact of the recent lava flow on the local community.

"It was a privilege to have the kids accept us," Spencer said. "The students at the school have a lot of pride for their culture. We exchanged leis as an introduction and one of the teachers taught us a sitting hula. We interacted with the kids making Hilo braid bracelets, weaving them out of leaves.

"It was neat to interact and learn what a typical day is like for them," she added. "Some of the kids have a two-hour bus ride to get to school. One of the kids lived where there was an active lava flow. I can't imagine being a fifth grader and having to move."

Overall, Spencer said, the field trip was "much more than I expected."

"We talked about volcanoes in class but you can never depict what you are going to see," Spencer said. "Pictures don't do Hawai'i justice. When you are physically looking at the lava, it is stuff [Dr. Menold] can't get through to you in class."

Click here for more photographs from the field trip