Mayor James Eskridge (seated) spoke with students about
life on Tangier Island.
After students toured the island, they
returned to the mainland by ferry.
Randolph-Macon College’s First-Year Experience (FYE)
program immerses freshmen in a cross-disciplinary study that is challenging, thought-provoking—and
Small cohorts join professors from two different disciplines for a year-long exploration
of a topic in a challenging set of classes. Outside the classroom, students participate
in co-curricular events designed to deepen their understanding of the topic. The
students’ work culminates in an interdisciplinary analysis that might take the form
of a written report, a video production or a work of art.
Human Cultures and the Bay
This year, R-MC Professors Chas. Gowan (environmental
studies) and Robert Gray (philosophy)
are teaching “Who Cares About the Chesapeake Bay?” The course examines how the natural
environment of the Chesapeake Bay is linked to the human cultures that have developed
on its shores.
According to Gowan, “The basic question we’re asking is ‘How should humans treat
the Bay?’ The science side of the course looks at the technical aspects of managing
natural resources, and the philosophy side looks at various ethical frameworks related
to the proper role of humans in the environment.”
The decision to teach the course was easy for Gowan and Gray. “We both have similar
philosophies about teaching—what works and what doesn’t—and we both really enjoy
explaining our thoughts on the Bay from the perspective of our two disciplines,”
says Gowan, who also serves as the director of the FYE program.
The Outdoor Classroom
In September 2010, Gowan, Gray and their 30 FYE students traveled to Tangier Island
on the Chesapeake Bay, where they met with a seventh-generation waterman, James
Eskridge, who is also the mayor of the island. In a question and answer period lasting
more than an hour, Mayor Eskridge told students about making a living (including
sending six kids to college) by crabbing and fishing. “His sincere love for his
work, for the Bay, and for Tangier Island was simply amazing,” says Gowan. After
the meeting with the Mayor, students toured the island on their own before returning
to the mainland by ferry.
Gowan and Gray also have plans in the works for an overnight camping trip in the
spring of 2011 to trace the James River from the mouth of the Bay to its headwaters.
“As Mayor Eskridge correctly pointed out, the biggest problem facing the Bay is
water quality,” says Gowan. “Those water quality problems result from what we do
on the land that surrounds the Bay. A tour of the James River watershed will allow
students to see first-hand how things we do hundreds of miles from the water directly
affects how many crabs the Mayor has to catch.”
For more information about R-MC’s First-Year Experience program, visit