Nine participants headed to the Shenandoah Valley in March for Classroom in the Wild, an experiential field-based workshop open to all students and the public. Led by American University School of Communication (AU SOC) Professor Larry Engel, rappelling guide Lester Zook of Wild GUYde Adventures, LLC; National Geographic Explorer Robert Boyd III, SOC/MFA '19; and graduate student Sarah King, the workshop provides participants the opportunity to expand and improve their photography and filmmaking skills on location. Other members of the group included SOC graduate student Samantha Noland (author), Hannah Schwartzberg, Jelina Liu, Maddie Miller, Jacob Kamen, Nolen Stevens, Samundra Ghimire, Lily Huffman, and Leilani Combs.
I’m not going to lie, I was nervous to go on Classroom in the Wild! I’m not the most outdoorsy person and I struggle still with keeping up to speed with the camera and sound equipment in film classes, but I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. I signed up after hearing the great experiences of Sarah, Adam, and Professor Larry [Engel].
I had low expectations going in. I arrived to leave for the trip and immediately felt at home with the other students. Sarah, Maddie and I headed out with a car full of snacks. We met up with another car in Front Royal and stopped for a goofy lunch at the Blue Winged Frog Café, not knowing it would take an hour to get our food and we would hear jokes the whole time told by Robert, the owner of the place. We arrived at camp and settled in. Larry was our fearless leader, and we tackled the gear.
The snow came on the first full day, and it was cold! I was wondering if it would all work out when I could barely watch the Oscars (shout out to Hannah for helping me try!). Then, two of our initial recruits had to leave for various reasons and concerns arose that we would lose our mojo. But, the opposite happened. No matter our age, background, experience level or motivation for making this our spring break, we all fully committed.
We interviewed the most interesting people, I really got my hands on the camera for the first time in a doc as Maddie (pictured left), Robert, and I (pictured left) walked the woods with Bryan and his son. The snow fell on the camera as we navigated the pine needles. People started coming out of their shells. On Tuesday, we had the unexpected joy of visiting a landfill and getting to partner with Sustainability Matters to see the cool work they’re doing turning a landfill into a wildflower patch. We got an amazing bowl of lentil soup to warm us up. We then saw eagles and filmed a demo of stream health check with Friends of the North Fork. Despite the blustery wind, I was warming up to the experience.
Each night we literally warmed up by sitting around a fire that Sarah prepared for us. It made me feel taken care of to sit by the fire with the others before bed. Samundra also made us all soup and we created a family tree of everyone, and I finally got siblings that I never had. We shared Myers-Briggs types and took the enneagram personality test.
Nolen and I had a DMC (deep meaningful conversation) which I always wished I had more of in college. Jacob offered to see the sunrise the next day, so I woke up at 5 even though I didn’t need to and got ready for the sunrise trip. The boys and I watched the sun rise over a mountain and took in the sight while freezing.
We all then headed out for the big day of rappelling! I had been rappelling in 8th grade but not with a camera in hand. So, we ascended the rocks and scrambled up to the ledge. Leilani helped me along the scraggly path and had my back on the descent. She knows her stuff! Lily was my partner to climb back up and while I panted and struggled, she led the way. We then tried the second time with cameras, and I literally spun in a circle trying to get a video. I had a blast! We then trekked to the waterfall. We got back after the long day and had s'mores after a dinner party. Shout out to Lee Ann for making vegan, gluten free, and delicious food for us all week! And thanks to the wild for providing us a classroom to explore and bond in together.
If you have the opportunity to go on this experience, seize the chance! Even if you’re a city girl.
Samantha Noland is a first-year Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in Film and Media Arts graduate student double concentrating in Social and Political Impact Documentary and Arts and Entertainment. She received her undergraduate Bachelors of Arts (BA) degree from Cornell University College of Arts and Sciences, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. She is from Silver Spring, MD where she currently resides with her parents and cat, Zohar.