Lydia Estes, a first-year student at Wofford College from Carlisle, Pa., never thought she’d get to meet with Tawana Weicker, TEDx speaker and CEO of Warhorse Solutions, or have the chance to tour a multi-million dollar bean sprout farm or even forge her own iron hook. Throughout January, however, she has done all of these things and more with her Wofford Interim class, “From the Earth to the Exotic: Frolicking in the Foothills.”

“In this course, we are trying to provide our students with a way of looking at one question or one problem – which in this case, is ‘what is Polk County?’” says Dr. Cissy Fowler, associate professor of sociology and anthropology, who is teaching the course with Dr. Eun-Sun Lee, professor and director of the string ensemble and director of the Dunlap Chamber Music Series. Both professors currently live in Polk County and take pride in their home.

The class has spent about one-third of their time on campus, visiting with guest lecturers and studying the intersection of nature and art in Polk County. Students have read articles about watersheds, biodiversity, rare and endangered plants, wildlife, farmers, local foods, beekeeping, forest management and conservation in Polk County N.C., which is the northern neighbor of Spartanburg County. The rest of class time has been spent off-campus, visiting different sites in the region. Students have toured local farms, including the last surviving dairy farm in the county, hiked through the Green River Gamelands, met a 92-year-old cattle farmer and his grandson, learned about stream-bank stabilization along the North Pacolet River, studied ecological restoration in a former pulp timber forest, learned how to design forest management plans and also how to develop conservation easements. The students then spent four days at the Tryon Arts and Crafts School. There each student forged an iron hook, created a fused glass bowl, hand built a ceramic pot and constructed woodcraft.

“This is such a rich and diverse cultural and agricultural area,” says Lee. “It’s a great resource to help our students so they can better understand and appreciate rural areas and nature.”

For first-year student Morgan Faries, learning more about living a rural, sustainable lifestyle is both familiar and new.

“My hometown, Lenoir, N.C., is similar to Polk County in regard to the idea of living simply,” she says. “I’ve since gained a much higher respect for those that have farms to provide for themselves, their families and their community. It’s imperative to be aware of one’s surroundings to truly be involved in that community.”

By exploring the complex interconnectivity between the different divisions of humanities and social sciences, the course aims to encourage critical thinking and civic engagement.

“We’re looking at the environment of the region, its natural resources, its ecology and agriculture and forestry, as well as issues related to communities like values, demographics and migrations,” says Fowler. “We’re then asking ourselves, how do these specific details relate to other things within the county such as nutrition and childcare, availability of school lunches, employment and wages and sustainability.”

“This class is the definition of a liberal arts education,” says Estes. “We have discussed geology, chemistry, business, economy, arts, history, government. It’s all-encompassing.”

Fowler wants the subject matter to encourage students to move beyond their comfort zones — to observe, explore and participate.

“By going out into different communities, such as with Polk County,” says Fowler, “we are demonstrating values that we promote here at Wofford. We need to maximize our ability to build and have those relationships.”

Lee agrees. “Our students can appreciate the good life and living well and that involves living close to the earth and nature, understanding your surroundings and your culture and understanding the interaction among your community and then what exists culturally within the community.”

“This is a lesson we all need,” says Estes. “This world is so much bigger than ourselves. Eating well and taking care of the environment and understanding how we use it and interact with it is vital.”

To synthesize all the work done over the course of the month, the students wrote creative short stories based on their experience.

by Kelsey Aylor, Wofford Class of 2018