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Cats in the Wild: UK, Aramark Offer Study Away Opportunities in the US National Parks

By Miko McFarland and Lindsey Piercy

For more than 100 years, the National Parks have allowed visitors to immerse themselves in diverse ecosystems, as well as provided opportunities to learn about the importance of conservation and environmental protection.

This summer, students at the University of Kentucky will get the chance to take their studies beyond the classroom and into the National Parks — thanks to a partnership between UK, Aramark and the National Parks Service.

Aramark, UK’s dining partner, also serves the U.S. National Parks, and that’s how this unique collaboration emerged.

“We’re excited to work in partnership with Aramark to offer these opportunities for students to engage in credit-bearing experiential educational experiences in some of the nation’s most beautiful national parks,” Katherine McCormick, senior faculty fellow, Office of the Vice President for Student Success, said. “Our expert faculty have designed educational opportunities and experiences that use the unique environments of the parks to facilitate student learning, as well as to deepen student understanding of the ecology and fragility of these amazing ecosystems.”

UK faculty from four colleges have teamed up to offer five summer courses in the nation’s parks. Additionally, they are working with Aramark, Student Success and Education Abroad & Exchanges to develop a portfolio of innovative experiential learning opportunities:

“Students will learn about the geologic processes that shaped these amazing places, form lasting friendships and gain a new appreciation for our natural world,” Ratajeski explained. “Students will also be given the opportunity to actively participate in scientific research with National Park Service hydrologists to examine recent erosion of riverbanks within the park.”   

Ratajeski, whose doctoral research focuses on the origin of the El Capitan Granite in Yosemite, will be leading students on a two-week field study through Yosemite National Park and the eastern Sierra Nevada of central California.

“Taking students out in the field is what I love most about being a senior lecturer in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at UK,” Ratajeski said. “I've felt pretty cooped up for the last year, so I am itching to share my enthusiasm for geology and the outdoors in a fabulous setting with students.”

For more information about study away opportunities, you can visit the Education Abroad website.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.