Texas Tech’s Bridge Adventure Program Explores Grand Canyon National Park

Seven students and three faculty members involved with Texas Tech University’s Bridge Adventure Program embarked on a four-day, three-night backpacking excursion in Grand Canyon National Park during spring break, March 16-20. 

Bridge Adventure is a new program developed by faculty in the Davis College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources that creates educational opportunities designed to promote diversity and inclusion in agricultural and natural resources fields through transformative learning experiences related to the natural environment. The program was established with a federally funded Hispanic-Serving Institution grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program’s inaugural cohort includes seven students, representing nine major and minor fields of study across the university. 

The backpacking excursion, led by program director Nathan Gill, an assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resources Management, and assistant director Lindsay Kennedy, an assistant professor of practice in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communications, traversed the canyon’s famed South Kaibab and Bright Angel trails. The nearly 20-mile round trip hike provided students with an opportunity to push themselves mentally and physically while experiencing one of the country’s most notable national parks. 

Bridge Adventure students make the ascent up Bright Angel Trail in Grand Canyon National Park. (Photo by Lindsay Kennedy)

Gill said the Grand Canyon excursion was a capstone experience for the program’s first cohort.  

“The students expressed not only a newfound appreciation for the magnitude of the Grand Canyon but also a newfound appreciation for the magnitude of their own physical capacities and inner strength,” Gill said. “It was a great experience for us all to strengthen our connection with the environment and experience personal growth.” 

The two-year program features adventure excursions, like the Grand Canyon trip, along with mentored research and a service-learning trip. These high-impact learning experiences are designed to help students build community, value diversity, develop an appreciation for the outdoors and natural environment, and connect with regional partners to develop skills for their future careers. 

Kierstynn Melton, a senior civil engineering major and member of the first Bridge Adventure cohort, said the group rallied around each other. 

“I was really impressed with everyone,” she said. “Nothing prepares you for the scale of [the Grand Canyon]. Even during everyone’s most challenging moments, we all stayed positive. I feel like we really came together as a group.” 

Jake Burke, a senior natural resources management major, said the trip was a highlight of his college experience. 

“It’s been mind-blowing, all of this,” Burke said. “There is something about a shared experience; everyone went through their own personal challenges, but you get to know them and persevere through adversity together. It’s been a really cool experience.” 

Students soak in the view of the Colorado River on the Bright Angel Trail. (Photo by Lindsay Kennedy)

The inaugural cohort started their experience in Bridge Adventure in the fall of 2021 with a program orientation session, an outdoor gear demonstration with Lubbock outdoor shop, Mountain Hideaway, and a seven-mile hike in Palo Duro State Park. The group will participate in a service-learning trip this summer with World Hunger Relief Inc. 

The Bridge Adventure Program is a multi-disciplinary effort between faculty in the Natural Resources Management and the Agricultural Education and Communications departments at Texas Tech. In addition to Gill and Kennedy, other faculty involved with the program include Scott Burris, AE&C department chair and professor, who assists with adventure excursions, Courtney Meyers, AE&C professor and graduate studies coordinator, who serves as the grant’s external evaluator, and Carlos Villalobos, NRM associate professor in natural resources management, who advises research projects within the program. 

The Bridge Adventure group completed their backpacking excursion at the Bright Angel Trailhead on Grand Canyon’s South Rim. (Photo by Nellie Hill)

The following undergraduate students participated in the Bridge Adventure Grand Canyon adventure excursion: 

  • Jake Burke – Natural Resources Management 
  • Martha Hodgins – Advertising and Global Studies, English and Media Strategies 
  • Kierstynn Melton – Civil Engineering, Environmental Engineering 
  • Kara Montgomery – Natural Resources Management, Atmospheric Science 
  • Daniel Ozlowski – Natural Resources Management 
  • Ashlyn Sneed – Ecology and Environmental Biology, Chemistry 
  • Madelyn Shade – Multidisciplinary Science and Education 

The Bridge Adventure Program is now accepting applications for its second cohort, which will begin in fall 2022. The program is open to Texas Tech undergraduate students of all majors. The application process will be open through May 15 with the interview and selection process taking place this summer. Interested candidates can apply online at bridgeadventurettu.com.  

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