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One of a Kind: Interdisciplinary Student Wesley Brunson

Wesley Brunson Degree emphasis: Science and Technology, Culture, and Sustainability CCE Scholarship: Fibiger Award 

For Inter-College Program (ICP) student and Fibiger Award scholarship recipient Wesley Brunson, spending 8 to 10 hours a day on a bicycle may not be the best way to "boot camp" back into shape, but it was definitely the perfect hands-on experience to add to his degree plan.

Brunson, who is studying the relationship and interplay between science and technology, culture, and sustainability through the ICP, spent the fall semester cycling 6,500 kilometers from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Lima, Peru, via EatBikeGrow as part of a directed-study program. Many of his supplies and equipment needs were covered through his Fibiger Award.

Led by U professor Paul Porter (College of Food, Agriculture, and Nutrition Sciences), Brunson and two other undergraduate students traveled across the diverse South American agroecosystems in order to look at how humans are using the landscape to produce food, fiber, and fuel.

"I bought my bike—and clipless pedals—not long before we left (about two months), so I got some training rides in, but... Well, after a couple weeks of riding all day, you get in shape pretty quickly. Adventure is always good," Brunson says with a laugh about his trip.

A few days (or weeks) of "adjusting" to a bike was a small sacrifice in exchange for the experience, Brunson believes, and it fits perfectly with his academic interests. "Sustainability isn't a topic you can view from one angle. It's an interdisciplinary problem, which is why I wanted an interdisciplinary degree.

"My main area of interest is in understanding the role science and technology has played in human sociocultural development, and how best to use these technologies in a more sustainable way in the future," he says.

While in South America, Brunson researched the different types of agriculture the group came across, and worked on building a vocabulary of terms and expressions that the native Spanish speakers there used to describe sustainability issues.

"Sustainable agriculture is a way of feeding the world's population without exhausting the earth's natural resources in the process. This issue is both a global and local concern. I think sustainable agriculture can be achieved only when there is a balance between a large-scale, global agricultural approach and bottom-up grassroots effort. This trip was a great way to experience that."

Continues Brunson, "I was basically on the bike for about 8 to 10 hours every day. Along the way, I did my best to speak with any people I encountered. At first, my Spanish was limited, but I tried to engage them in a conversation about whatever it is they were doing, especially if it was agriculturally related, and especially if it was sustainable. It was a unique opportunity to get out into the field, really talk with people.

"Sustainable agriculture is a hot topic these days, and this trip has given me an opportunity to experience it firsthand. I don't think I would have been able to make this study abroad experience work for me academically without the help of the Fibiger Award and the flexibility of the ICP program."