Students learn how to survive on a deserted island


    By Emily Hellewell

    Imagine surviving a semester on a deserted island.

    Not the kind of survivor that will win a treasure chest full of money if they last the longest but the kind that establishes a civilization.

    Three times a week nearly 20 BYU students meet together in the fourth floor of the Crabtree Building to figure out how to survive and escape from a deserted island.

    For the past 8 years, associate professor of mechanical engineering Paul Eastman and anthropology professor Ray Matheny have collaborated under the direction of John Harris, now-emeritus English professor, to design and instruct a class that teaches students how to teach themselves.

    The students learn to organize themselves and seek out learning opportunities. They also learn something about life and their own potential in the process, Eastman said.

    In this class, the students pretend to be shipwrecked on an island rich in natural resources, plant life and several animal species, he said.

    Eastman said, the class begins by giving the students a scenario describing how their boat capsized and the lifeboat floated the students to an island about 100 miles off the coast of Washington state.

    The goal is to use the information in the Harold B. Lee Library to create an environment they could live in, he said.

    Eastman said the students use the information in the Lee Library to learn how to find food, build shelters and maximize the natural resources of the island.

    If the students are successful they will figure out how to build an airplane that will take them to the mainland.

    Because the class is only a semester the task to learn how to build an airplane is nearly impossible, but it is worthwhile seeing students learn, Eastman said.

    “So many of them come out with the feeling that, ‘gee’, I really can learn something that I never thought I would learn or like to learn,” he said.

    Eastman said the most important aspect of this class is teaching students to have the desire to learn.

    Eastman said this class teaches students not to limit themselves to learning only what they think they can learn.

    “When you have English students who give lectures on aerodynamics, that is a neat thing,” he said.

    Students begin to understand the importance of learning a variety of skills so they can communicate, progress and work with others, Eastman said.

    Rebecca Rygg, 19, a sophomore from Branchburg, N.J., majoring in philosophy, will always remember the incredible sense of accomplishment she feels learning about complex scientific concepts for the island.

    “To understand the aerodynamics to fly is amazing,” Rygg said.

    Jessica Tweed, 19, a sophomore from Anoka, Minn., majoring in zoology, has learned how to survive and gained an appreciation for the knowledge previous generations gained.

    Tweed said she now realizes how much work is involved in making everything from the simplest of tools to computers.

    The previous generations used to seem so primitive, Tweed said, but they accomplished so much.

    The students are often asked how this class is similar to the survival shows on television, said Sarah L. Olson, 19, a junior from Long Island, N.Y., majoring in English.

    “This is not like Survivor at all,” Olson said. “We will take anyone and any information they know. We would prefer to have people on the island.”

    Olson said she has gained a great sense of academic independence.

    “I feel like I could find out anything or I would give a valiant attempt at finding it out,” Olson said.

    “I am more confident in my research abilities. I may not have an idea but I could find out,” she said.

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