Posted May 4, 2012

Study of adventure tourism makes Udall winner a true global citizen

It’s no secret that Temple students can make a difference, not just locally in North Philadelphia, but around the world. Graduate Sierra Gladfelter is just one of the many students making an impact on the global community. In 2011, Gladfelter was one of three students from Temple who was awarded scholarships from the Morris K. and Stuart L. Udall Foundation, which recognizes students studying in environment-related fields or of Native American descent and pursuing fields related to health care or tribal public policy. Gladfelter’s journey included a trip to Nepal last year to study adventure tourism and how the business affects the local population.

Temple Times: Why did you chose Temple?

Sierra Gladfelter: I chose Temple because I grew up at the headwaters of the Schuylkill River in the rural Appalachian mountains of Pennsylvania and wanted to learn to live and love a city. I was looking for something different from what I had grown up with, but still connected to the wider community and environment I called home. In addition, when I visited Temple I felt incredible energy and loved the pulse of life I felt here — partly the city and partly the university’s unique and diverse identity.

TT: What was your major?

SG: I studied anthropology, with a minor in geography and urban studies. However, I really tried to take advantage of the array of unique liberal arts classes and opportunities for undergraduate research and independent study. I have focused most of my work, research and papers on outdoor tourism and its management in national parks and protected spaces from America’s Yosemite National Park to Nepal’s Himalaya and Peru’s famous Inca Trail.

TT: What was your reaction when you found out that you won the prestigious Udall Award?

SG: Of course I was deeply humbled and honored. I put so much energy into that application, but to be honest when I handed it in, I felt so full and complete that I did not care if I won it or not. This was a result of the clarity that writing so many essays about what I envisioned for myself and my future gave me. The community that I became a part of when I won the first time in 2010 and continued to build relationships with when I won again in 2011 has been incredible. It was truly like joining an extended family with a support network of individuals working on the same environmentally-framed issues all over the planet.

TT: You told us last year that you hoped to design a national outdoor education program that instills a sense of investment in local landscapes. How is that project coming along?

SG: Well this past semester we finally got approval to teach the program as a special topics course entitled River Acts and Impacts. Supported through an Outdoor Nation grant, the class will address watershed issues through three weekends of paddling on the Schuylkill River in addition to a semester of classes through the Honors Program. We had hoped to secure approval to run the course as a GenEd class but are still in the process of opening it up to the entire student body. Although I am graduating, I hope to return to Temple one day to joint-teach the course and plan to integrate outdoor education wherever I travel, live and teach in the world.

TT: You went to Nepal last year to study how the Tibetan and Himalayan peoples are affected by adventure tourism. What was that experience like?

SG: Last year, I studied abroad in Nepal with the School for International Training. In the world’s mountains most-coveted by backpackers and mountaineers, I conducted a month-long independent project in a village located at the edge of Tibet as part of my final project for the program. Accessible only by foot, Sama took seven days to reach. During the 12,000-foot climb, my guide, Ngodrup, shared stories of driving yaks into Tibet and the daily struggle to adjust to the trekking industry swelling around him. Although I went to Nepal for mountains, people left the greatest impact on me. Prayer flags fluttering from the rooftop of the planet reminded me that regardless of the how modern boundaries box them in or out of land ‘worth preserving,’ their culture will remain tied to the mountains.

TT: What are your plans for the future?

SG: I recently signed an 11-month contract to teach at a government school in the city of Chengdu, in the Sichuan province of China. I will be teaching English classes with up to 90 twelve-year-old students and am very excited for the opportunity to be surrounded by children and developing interactive curriculum. My plan is to spend a year abroad teaching and then return to the U.S. to apply to graduate school programs in geography. I would eventually like to work for the U.S. Forest Service or National Park Service doing community outreach and planning.