To me, classes during Yale shopping period are like the children in the Willy Wonka movie. The courses at the beginning are brimming with hope and enthusiastic possibility, but you can still tell that most of them are no good. Over time the suspicion is confirmed so that they are slowly but surely removed from our Online Course Selection worksheets as if by Oompa Loompas. Yet just as the chocolate factory had its Charlie, so too is there a course at Yale that has proven itself to be a great treasure. I am referring, of course, to EVST 348: “Yellowstone and Global Change.”
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than … Yellowstone, and our people should see to it that it is preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with its majestic beauty all unmarred.” He was speaking of the park, but he might as well have been talking about the class. Despite receiving surprisingly little fanfare, it is truly the best one at Yale.
Before I explain, it is worth acknowledging that my capacity to make such a judgment is limited. After all, I have only taken 31 courses and Yale offers roughly 2,000. Many of them are gems. Who could take umbrage with the unflinching certainty of the OCE reviewer who described their love for “Ornithology”? How can one disparage a class as riveting as “Age of Akhenaton,” a close study of the famous Egyptian pharaoh, or the schoolwide energy generated by “The Structure of Networks”? Not to mention the various courses which have received accolades in the national media.
I have not taken all of these courses and certainly do not intend to diminish the value of any class at Yale. Nevertheless, my pronouncements on “Yellowstone and Global Change” are more than just a gut feeling, because it is difficult to imagine a more exciting class.
You get this sense as soon as you walk in for the first time. The environment is infested with energy, enthusiasm and a spirit of learning. Professor Susan Clark is sweet as a box of candy and makes everyone feel welcome and engaged. She is eager to work with her students and never lacking in terms of insights, perspectives and fun commentary. Indeed, she is one of the pre-eminent Yellowstone experts in the world. The workload is fair but rigorous: There’s a lengthy final paper, two class presentations and weekly reading responses.
The dominant allure of “Yellowstone and Global Change,” however, is the wondrous nature of its subject, the park itself. Yellowstone is the place to be; there’s no getting around it. President Obama recently went so far as to say that Teddy Roosevelt was his favorite childhood president in large part because Roosevelt would hang out in Yellowstone for months at a time — even while in office. Anyone who has been to the park would have to concede that Roosevelt was onto something, and that Obama is wise to be admiring. If you take the course, you can see for yourself: One of the great perks of “Yellowstone and Global Change” is that it offers its students the option to visit over spring break — and Yale subsidizes the entire trip.
I took advantage of this opportunity and it rendered me speechless to see such a special place. Upon reflection during my time in the park, I wrote an acrostic poem (which I would be happy to share with you if you are so inclined to reach out).
Yellowstone National Park is an American treasure. Its aesthetics are breathtaking and the whole park is a volcano with the power to destroy the entire world. Correspondingly, “Yellowstone and Global Change” is a Yale treasure, and a hidden one at that.
Don’t miss your chance for this golden ticket.
Michael Herbert is a senior in Saybrook College. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .