Written by Sheina Vogt, CSU STEM VISTA 2015-16, Humboldt State University Klamath Connection
Humboldt is weird. It is more than just a “keep [place] weird!” bumper sticker. Humboldt hardly even notices its own weirdness. When I first arrived here, I felt like I had stepped onto the set for the musical Hair. Someone walks a bunny on a leash in the town plaza during farmers’ market and no one bats an eye. Students at Humboldt State University (HSU) go for a nature walk and decide to climbing forty feet up a redwood. All these things are considered normal and casual. Coming from Seattle, there was no way for me to prepare myself for that kind of a culture shock.
I imagine that my experience is how a lot of the freshmen at HSU feel when they first get here. 55.4% of students this year reported that they were from Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, or the San Francisco Bay Area. I have heard from students that they came here to get away from city life or that this was the school they picked, because it was just far enough away from home. I am not the only one here who is far from home. This is part of the reason that the program I am working for, Klamath Connection, is such a great idea for HSU.
Klamath Connection focuses on themes that are local to Humboldt county, it puts students in communal housing on campus, and it helps to immerse students into what it means to be a science major. It is a science-focused, place-based program that brings students up. Essentially, Klamath Connection builds a community of STEM students, and sets them up for success by connecting them to their faculty and the resources on campus.
Perhaps an example will help illustrate Klamath Connection. I recently sat in a forest, surrounded by Klamath Connection students who were surprisingly attentive. Professors, field scientists, Yurok tribe members, and older HSU peers took turns telling them about the Klamath River. The talks ranged from a deep, spiritual reverence of the river and the salmon in it, to scientific discussions about how rivers shape the land. With the river not more than 100 yards away and their bellies full of fresh caught, traditionally prepared salmon, I can imagine no better way for students to start off a university career.
I have been blessed to be accepted by most of the students as part of this year’s community (albeit as staff not as a student). Given that I am far away from home, having students that are so eager to include me has been a great boon. Most of the students are in the same situation, lonely and far from home, starting something wholly new. The Klamath Connection community is hopefully helping to alleviate this. For me, they definitely help stave off the lonely feelings with their jam sessions, tree climbing parties, spur of the moment study groups, and late night banana slug catching walks. They are magic, and they are so very weird. It has only been a few months since they moved to Humboldt, but they are already part of HSU.
If you love weird communities, foggy beaches, redwood forests, and studying what you are passionate about, then HSU is right for you. If what you are passionate about is science and engineering, then Klamath Connection may be right for you.
Humboldt State University. “Fast Facts: Fall Semester 2015.” humboldt.edu/irp/fast_facts.html. Institutional Research & Planning. Accessed October 19th 2015.