Students standing next to the Snake River

Hells Canyon Institute

The Hells Canyon Institute is conducted under the Lewis-Clark State College course title “HUM 351: Wilderness Seminar.” The three-credit course emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach to the study of wilderness values—with Hells Canyon of the Snake River as a touchstone. A maximum of fourteen outstanding juniors and seniors from many different academic disciplines are eligible for the semester-long course.

Faculty from humanities, history, and the natural sciences lead two-week learning modules in their respective disciplines. Each module reflects methodologies appropriate to the particular discipline and offers in-depth learning and reflective opportunities for non-majors. Modules include independent and collaborative reading, analytical writing, and problem-solving assignments as well as on-campus class meetings.

During the intensive, week-long residential program at The Nature Conservancy’s Garden Creek Preserve in Hells Canyon, days begin early with a simple, nutritious breakfast and observation (sun rising, river flowing, wild turkeys leaving their roosts and mating, etc.). Mornings usually include classroom instruction or field trips led by either the academic or non-academic faculty. Afternoons include guided field trips, independent research, reading, and hiking. Evenings include faculty- or student-led discussions, films, reading, a student-led drum circle, and impromptu parlor games.

As a capstone for the experience, students develop a faculty-mentored research project and conduct research during their Canyon residency. Back on campus, they complete their research. The research projects have produced elementary and high school teaching units, videos, botanical specimens, a collection of poetry, a collection of watercolors, a virtual flythrough of the Canyon geology, and several posters/brochures which the Hells Canyon Institute can use in the future. Students present their research for a campus and community audience at the LCSC Research Symposium. 

FREQUENTLY HEARD COMMENTS: “Be open-minded, responsible, and respectful, and it will be one of your best college courses.” “One of the best courses I’ve ever taken.” “It can be a life-changing experience.”

Success for former HCI Students

Loren Landrus

(HCI 2009) presented his HCI project, a short story about a Chinese miner, as part of his graduate school application and was accepted into University of Idaho’s MFA in Creative Writing program with a teaching assistantship. 

Jennifer Watkins

(HCI 2010) landed a fulltime summer job with HCNRA’s Clarkston Office as a result of her meeting with Forest Service representatives during their presentation at Garden Creek.

Ross Carlton

(HCI 2009) coordinated a Hells Canyon trip for the International Programs Office. 

Jonelle McCoy

(HCI 2009) is the first ASLCSC president to promote a campus-wide sustainability agenda. 

Thank you to our major sponsor:

Lightfoot Foundation