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Bell TowerOctober 04, 2023

Charleston Maymester Provided History Lessons, Life Hacks, Friendships

Written By: Judith Hansen

A cross-(half-a-)country domestic Maymester trip took 40 members of the Myles Friedman Honors Program at UAFS to Charleston, South Carolina, on a journey that offered breathtaking scenery, wildlife, history, and a chance to use their analytical skills.

The trip featured visits along the way, including a stop at the Arkansas State Capitol, where they had a tour of the Senate chambers and the old Supreme Court room. Mat Pitsch, former state senator and representative, and former interim dean of the College of Applied Science and Technology at UAFS, spoke to the students about the importance of service in government.

Stops on the way home included the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, where the students observed a working farm near Cherokee, North Carolina, and Stoney River National Battlefield Park, where they learned about the Civil War battle that cemented the Emancipation Proclamation, Siler said.

But Charleston was the star of the show.

We chose Charleston, South Carolina, because of the richness of its history, its many literary connections, and the contradictions we could find there. For example, Charleston is a Conde Nast best travel destination, and the city welcomes hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. Yet over 40 percent of all enslaved people in the Americas passed through Charleston,” Siler said.

“Our students were asked to not only visit but critically evaluate the sites we visited, applying critical thinking skills to question what parts of the stories in each site were told and what was omitted,” he said.

The group visited Fort Sumter, Boone Hall Plantation, and Old Charlestowne Landing, “learning the stories told in each site, but also researching the untold parts of each story.”

Isaac Scott, a sophomore studying for medical professions, said he was surprised to learn how history can be changed in the telling “so that an audience hears only what the teller wants you to hear.”

“The biggest takeaway (is learning that) when going on an educational trip, it is important to ask questions and do your own research because you may not hear the full story from your guides,” Isaac said.

The next takeaway is a hard-learned life hack: “Always pack and prepare for rain.”

Junior psychology major Juliet Flanagan liked the whole experience: The stop at Fort Sumter, the ghost tour in Charleston, the chance to learn more about other students in the Honors Program.

“We were all on a bus together for hours on end and then shared hotel rooms with three other students … which doesn’t allow much space for alone time,” she said. It was a great time getting to know everyone and learning how to be with people in such close quarters. 

The Myles Friedman Honors Program at UAFS fully funded the trip. Students were responsible only for their lunch and dinner.

Siler said 15 years of leading student travel study trips, domestic and abroad, has taught him there are always surprises. He has a plan, a backup plan, and a backup for the backup. But there are still surprises.

That trip to the Arkansas Capitol came about because an attraction Siler wanted the students to visit was closed. By chance, a former UAFS employee was working in the Capitol, saw the group’s name, and reached out.

“So we ended up with a wonderful tour and some great opportunities to talk about how our state government works with a former senator,” Siler said.

  • Tags:
  • Myles Friedman Honors Program
  • Maymester

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