Summer and fall 2012 at SMU-in-Taos: Seeking adventurous learners

Application deadlines are approaching for summer and fall 2012 courses at SMU’s 300-acre campus near Taos, New Mexico.

“No other university has a campus like SMU-in-Taos,” says Mike Adler, professor of archaeology and SMU-in-Taos executive director. “It is special in a number of ways. The place infuses everyone with a sense of calm and beauty. We have carefully preserved the natural beauty of the mountains, a place where students and faculty can work together unencumbered by distractions.”

SMU-in-Taos has offered summer education programs tailored to the region’s unique cultural and natural resources since 1973. In 2009, the campus launched a fall term thanks to new and renovated casitas and other improvements that made the facilities usable in all seasons.

The three summer programs are May 9-27, May 31-June 29, and July 31-August 17. The fall program is Aug. 21 through Dec. 12. Click here for summer and fall course offerings.

Students in the fall program will take 15 to 18 hours of courses that meet core undergraduate requirements in the arts, sciences, business and other disciplines. The fall program is open to students with a minimum 2.70 G.P.A. who have completed a full year at SMU.

The courses place a unique emphasis on experiential learning and hands-on interaction with their subject matter, Adler says. “As I tell our faculty, if you can only talk about it, don’t teach it in Taos. If you can see it, visit it, feel it, or hike it … that is how we teach our classes here.”

Additionally, the faculty and their families live on campus, so “students get to see them as individuals with outside lives, interests and hobbies, and faculty interact with students both in and out of the classroom,” he says.

And the location creates its own educational context. “Taos is a fascinating community of artists, activists, tourists, Native American tribal members and a number of other interesting groups and identities,” Adler says. “The diversity of the community makes for a very interesting mix of attitudes, political leanings and belief systems.”

For most students, a fall term in Taos costs the same as one taken on the main campus. Existing financial aid applies to study at the New Mexico campus, and SMU-in-Taos offers its own scholarships to students.  Learn more at the Taos financial aid site.

Garrett Ruoff, a senior marketing major with a psychology minor, took part in the first SMU-in-Taos fall term in 2009. As one of the University’s Taos Ambassadors – students who engage their peers and share information about SMU’s New Mexico programs – he has helped create new outreach efforts geared toward students, such as open-house events in the Dallas campus’ SMU-in-Taos office.

“I know a little about the mentality of students when they’re looking for classes to participate in, so I thought we should focus on the great classes, campus and environment of Taos,” Ruoff says. “The highlight for me has been the number signing up. We’ve already enrolled between 80 and 90 students for the upcoming summer terms.”

His marketing savvy also has helped him land a job before Commencement. He will begin work with the Coca-Cola Company after he graduates in May 2012.

For Taos Ambassador Lauren Rodgers, a senior psychology major with minors in Spanish and biomedical anthropology, the first fall term at SMU-in-Taos represented a kind of learning experience she already knew she preferred. “I will pick hands-on learning over lectures nine out of 10 times,” she says. “For many of the Taos courses, we went on field trips and really got our hands dirty, literally and figuratively.”

A particular standout, Rodgers says, was a geology course with Associate Professor Neil Tabor that used the mountains surrounding Taos as a living laboratory. “I took that class just to get a science requirement out of the way,” she says. “It turned out to be one of my favorite classes I’ve ever taken, anywhere.”

As in many aspects of life, parents can be great influencers, Ruoff says. His father encouraged him to enroll for that first fall term in Taos “just because he thought it would be a good experience for me.”

And it was, he adds, in more ways than one. “The whole experience taught me to relax and enjoy life more,” he says. “I used to be really stressed and tightly wound, and in New Mexico I had a lot of alone time for the first time in my life. The whole environment at SMU-in-Taos gives you time to think about what you really want from your life and your education. Spending that first sophomore term in Taos and finding a new perspective there really helped me.”

- Kathleen Tibbetts

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