True Grit: Texas Tech Style

O On a tranquil spring evening, Jerod Foster spoke to his students as the sun descended into the mountains. A golden light was thrown across the El Solitario in the heart of Big Bend Ranch State Park and illuminated the desert sky with vibrant pink shadows.

During spring break, 300,000 acres of desert served as the classroom and workspace for 16 undergraduate students enrolled in an adventure media course at Texas Tech University. The course, taught and created by College of Media & Communication Associate Professor of Practice Jerod Foster, Ph. D., immersed students in the outdoors and pushed them to enhance their media production skills as they travelled 90 miles across rugged terrain on bikes. The uninhabited landscape allowed students to gain hands-on experience in a real-world setting.

“My job at Tech is to bridge what I do in the field with the classroom or bridge the industry in the classroom, so students are more prepared to take on the job more immediately, right after school, especially creative production jobs,” Foster said.

Foster’s time as a student at Texas Tech University ignited his passion for photography and set him on a path toward being a highly-renowned photographer. While obtaining his undergraduate degree in agricultural communications, Foster participated in the well-known photo course in Junction, Texas, a photography course taught by the official State Photographer of Texas, Wyman Meinzer. Meinzer’s course immersed him in a hands-on, outdoor learning environment and later proved to be a turning point in Foster’s life.

“After knowing just how effective classes like the Junction intersession are, I wanted to keep teaching these types of courses and keep creating these kinds of experiences for students,” Foster said.

This year’s adventure media course was held at Big Bend Ranch State Park. The seven-day trip required students to camp and bikepack through the beautiful, yet unforgiving, Chihuahuan Desert. The desert terrain proved to be taxing on bikes and bodies alike. Menacing cactus, venomous snakes and dehydration were just a few elements that shaped their learning experience. Without the resources of water or medical facilities for miles, students had to mentally and physically prepare for the harsh conditions they endured.

Day one of the trip
Participants of the 2019 Adventure Media course ride into the Chihuahuan desert to begin a thrilling week-long journey.

Students packed the bare necessities on mountain bikes, along with heavy camera gear, and covered 15 to 30 miles a day, moving to different campsites throughout the week. By the end of the week, they completed the tenacious “Epic Loop” and El Solitario Rim bike route, while creating marketing material for several outdoor-oriented businesses. Students were also responsible for keeping a journal detailing their experiences and recording video content for a group documentary.

“This class was really special to me because it proved that anyone can do anything they set their mind to.”

Jacey Snapp, a junior agricultural communications major, was selected to be a part of this year’s class. Her passion for photography encouraged her to apply for the course.

“The biggest difference between this class and other college classes is that it is 100% totally hands on,” Snapp said. “You are completely thrown out and submerged into the industry, rather than just being told about it, and I feel like as a student, you learn a lot faster.”

Programs like agricultural communications really influenced the adventure media course, Foster said, because the course allows students to focus on a specific field, rather than a broad field of study.

“Unless we’re able to make a direct connection between the theoretical and the conceptual in the hands-on practical, we’re not doing a service to the student,” Foster said. “This kind of class provides those field-based experiences for students to see the connection and to think more deeply, more clearly, and hopefully more creatively as they go into their jobs afterwards.”

Codi Clark, a junior agricultural communications major, also participated in the course. Six months prior to the class, Clark did not know how to ride a bike. Now she proudly shows off her battle wounds and shares how she journeyed 90-miles across a desert on a bike.

“This class was really special to me because it proved that anyone can do anything they set their mind to,” Clark said, “and I’m doing it in such an environment that I love to be in.”

Codi photographing bluebonnets
Codi Clark, an agricultural communications major, photographs the unique bluebonnets and also participated in the Adventure Media class over spring break