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December 8, 1997

The legacy of the Merrill Field Program

Gonzalo Rodriguez studied in Peru through Merrill's program

By Francine Tyler

Often, the most important experiences students have in college are the ones that take place outside classroom walls. That certainly seems true for 25 former UCSC students whose stories are told in a new book, Field Study and Life-Long Learning: A Research Project.

The students all participated in the Merrill Field Program for Experiential Learning between 1969 and 1985. Nick Royal, who coordinated the field program from its early years to its closure in 1993, compiled the students' stories as part of a research project.

"I was very curious about how people had used the experience," said Royal, who started interviewing his subjects in 1989. "I found that they had done some very interesting things."

With a foreword by Merrill College provost John Isbister, Field Study is offered for sale at the Bay Tree Bookstore for $8.95. In addition to the students' stories, the book also provides a brief history of the program.

Designed to help students apply their classroom learning to real-world experiences, Merrill's program helped students identify, prepare for, and reacclimate from their field experiences both at home and abroad. Field-study assignments lasted anywhere from one quarter to a year or longer and involved work, volunteer service, or research.

By the time the program fell victim in 1993 to a severe budget crisis at the university, 3,000 students had taken part, with 825 traveling to places outside the U.S.

For his research, Royal focused on students who had traveled abroad. The 25 former students he interviewed had spent their field studies in Israel and in parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The profiles that arise from Royal's interviews reflect the students' experiences while in the program and reveal how their participation affected their later lives.

Royal found that all of his interview subjects viewed their time abroad as life-changing. "The experience affected each person in a different way," he said.

Devra Miller, a 1979 Merrill graduate who worked inside a Peruvian women's prison, said her work-study experience took her life "on a completely different course, and in a real, fundamental way, has impacted my life up to this day."

Using the Spanish she learned in Peru, Miller is a bilingual teacher at Half Moon Bay High School. Last year, she taught English at a high school in Serena, Chile, through a Fulbright grant. "The field study affected my life in so many ways: choice of jobs, language skills, choice of a mate, place to live, goals and values, all of these," she said.

Funding to support Royal's research project was supplied by Merrill College, the Social Sciences Division, and the Committee on Education.

Seven field-study programs are currently active at UCSC. Five are linked to academic disciplines in community studies, economics, environmental studies, Latin American and Latino studies, and psychology. Another program, Oakes Serves, is a service learning program at Oakes College focusing on service to the local community. Volunteers in Asia, an international service and learning program affiliated with Stanford University, has an office at Kresge College.

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