Semester 44 had HMI’s very first…

Written by: Maple Buescher, Semester 44 Alum

It’s been nearly a month since my HMI classmates and I signed off of our very last Zoom call, formally ending our semester-long experience in Colorado, Utah, and our bedrooms from across the country. I’ve been thinking a lot about HMI recently and about what the semester meant for us, caught up in the chaos that is the global pandemic.

Often I get caught in the trap of thinking about everything my semester didn’t get to do. We didn’t get to go back to Utah, or have a square dance, or climb the dunes, or go bowling. 

But our virtual semester provided us with a lot of interesting opportunities that are unique to Semester 44. So, without further ado, here’s a rundown of some of the awesome things that have never been done before in the history of HMI!

Semester 44 had HMI’s very first… 

  1. … mixed-gender tarp groups!

Six times over the course of two weeks, we met in small “expedition groups” of nine or ten students—the same as we would on regular expeds! We were further divided into tarp groups of three or four. These tarp groups were, for the first time in HMI’s history, mixed-gender!

In our exped groups, we completed various challenges. Using an online topographical map, we planned a route for our six-day exped. With the local Leadville Safeway’s online catalog, we used our budget to buy meals. (My group feasted on everything from cheesy pasta with broccoli to caviar with Red Bull, and more groups’ creative exped dinners included charcuterie, bacon, …..) We practiced our VEOMP-ing skills in a drama-filled hypothetical scenario (“I know you want to make your grandfather proud, but you can’t climb a mountain in a lightning storm!”). We played modified exped games like online Pictionary and spiced things up with physical activity challenges. Some of us also completed an online Wilderness First Aid course, and we put our new wilderness medicine skills to the test on the final day of our exped, making a plan to rescue an injured hiker.

2. … alumni fun run!

For us, the Fun Run meant a day of physical activity in any shape or form. I trained for the classic ten-mile run, but my classmates walked, biked, ran, and worked out together from across the country. A few times a week, we’d sign into Zoom meetings with our “Fun Run groups,” a cohort of half a dozen other students and faculty members who were training for the same type of physical activity we were. My Fun Run group had some difficulties ranging from students getting injured to shoes getting ripped off by New York sidewalk cracks, but we persevered and pushed through to finish a fantastic Fun Run. 

Joining us from across the country to run with us were hundreds of members of the HMI alumni community! Never before in HMI’s history have so many former students exercised together (in spirit) on the same day. Our semester loved seeing everyone’s Instagram posts and pump-up videos. We were especially touched by those members of the alumni community who supported our semester in particular—like the alum who ran 4.4 miles in honor of Semester 44.

3. … service activities that are still continuing today!

We didn’t just have a Project Day—our semester had a full-blown Project Week! Across the country, our semester was all hands on deck, supporting everyone from our parents to our political representatives to our food banks. We met in Zoom-based “service groups” several times to plan our projects and share our successes. Those groups were specialized: there were groups for everything from house cleaning to political activism. My group focused on local volunteering, from picking up trash in local parks to delivering meals to first responders. Other groups volunteered in myriad ways including helping their family clean the house; creating and building objects like chairs and garden beds; helping community members register to vote; and more!

Many of my classmates have said they hope to continue their service projects. I’m staying in touch with local food banks and other volunteer organizations too. It was very gratifying to be able to give back to the community I’ve lived in for 17 years—especially during the challenges that this pandemic has brought on!

4. … thousands-of-miles-apart solo spots!

You can’t tell us our solo spots weren’t socially distanced. When we say they were far apart, we mean they were really far apart. None of that one-student-every-ten-feet-around-the-Cabin-Loop-because-the-snow-is-way-too-deep-to-get-to-the-real-solo-spots nonsense that defined our two on-campus solo experiences. No, I did my solo at a river near my house, while my classmates settled into Central Park or the deep Oregon woods.

We met in Zoom-based solo groups, which were also our advisory groups, before each solo experience. There, we were assigned readings and writing prompts, and then set loose for three hours! My advisory group met back again at the end of each solo to share what we’d done and how we were feeling.

These solo experiences were, for me, the source of the longest and most complex journal entries I’ve ever written. I really appreciated the structured reflection time, and I know many of my classmates did too.

5. … three-day-long Full Circle experience!

Because, as my cabinmates joked, why have one super emotional day if you could have three?

In more ways than just the sharing experience, though, my classmates and I spent longer with our Full Circles than most semesters. Instead of writing them in just one long solo experience, my classmates and I were given different prompts for each solo. 

After solos were done, we were assigned to Full Circle groups with our advisory group and one other. There, our advisors taught us about the “braided essay,” a type of reflective writing that braids together different strands to create a cohesive final product. We read many braided essays, discussed their pros and cons, and learned more about the form before we were even began to write our own Full Circles.

After they were written, we shared our essays with a small group of peers and did substantial editing based on their feedback. Finally, we met for an evening session with our advisor groups (our last “advisory dinner,” as it were, though nobody in my group actually ate!). There, we shared our essays, received final feedback, made small changes, and submitted them to our Google Classroom.

Finally, we met to share them: two Zoom calls a day for three days, with eight students reading per session. There was plenty of time in the middle to eat lunch and rest our eyes from the screens.

I wrote in a journal a few weeks ago, complaining about the fact that everyone I talked to wanted to know about coming home from HMI and lamenting the fact that everyone seemed to assume that the pandemic defined my experiences. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had to talk about those in some senses. “We are not the coronavirus semester,” I wrote. “We are the canyons and the quigloos and the town trips and the ice skating and we are Leadville. But how do you talk about a semester without mentioning the second half?”

I’ve grown to realize, I think, that there is no reason not to mention the second half. We are, too, the semester who ordered caviar from Safeway for our virtual expedition; we are the students who blamed our fun run mishaps on the New York sidewalks; we are the semester who forgot our service group Zoom calls and went out running instead of volunteering; we are the semester who fell in local rivers during solo time; we are the semester who forgot to mute themselves while full-out sobbing during virtual Full Circles. 

And now we are alumni. We’ve felt part of this community since we joined HMIConnects on March 15, and we felt even more a part of it every time we saw alumni videos about the fun run or followed people on Instagram who we’d never met but who were from other HMi semesters. In many ways we are a normal part of the alumni community. But like every semester, we have our differences and our uniqueness, and I have learned to be just as proud of those first-time-in-HMI-history virtual experiences as I am of the time I spent in Leadville.

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