Belmont University Class Visits 40 States in 40 Days

While visiting Holy Trinity Cathedral in Chicago, the Belmont University students discuss what it means to be an American with a priest. The group visited 40 states in 40 days.
While visiting Holy Trinity Cathedral in Chicago, the Belmont University students discuss what it means to be an American with a priest. The group visited 40 states in 40 days. (By Chris Speed)

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

On June 6, 10 college students, two professors and one sleeper bus departed Belmont University in Nashville for the ultimate field trip: 40 states in 40 days. But this was no summer vacation: Homework assignments included 30 blogs each and post-trip papers for the students' travel-writing and sociology courses. We caught up with professor Ken Spring, junior Emma Shouse and senior Heather Gillespie in Washington -- or as they called it, Day 35. (For the itinerary, student bios and blogs, and more, see http://www.belmont.edu/40states.)

-- Andrea Sachs

How did the trip come about?

Spring: I was having a conversation with a colleague about how after college, we backpacked across Europe and how it seems that a lot of college students still do that today but don't explore their own country. Through these conversations, we brainstormed about taking students on a tour bus in the United States, stopping at historic points of interest, cultural points of interest and economic points of interest. We would spend a solid day exploring these places and seeing how they fit in with the American landscape and the American identity.

How did you choose the locations?

Spring: I made a list of all of the places that I thought were important historically, culturally and economically, and then pieced it together to fit into our map. In January, we had the students start researching the places beyond what the chambers of commerce were saying.

Which cities were you most surprised by?

Gillespie: We didn't really know what to expect in Little Rock, but one of our favorite museums and favorite days was there. We went to the Little Rock Central High School [site of a confrontation over school desegregation in 1957] and had a really cool experience with the exhibit and talking with the two guides who worked at the national site. Salt Lake City was a huge surprise for a lot of us, too. We did the typical tourist thing, the Mormon Temple tour, but on the spur of the moment, we attended [a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] film festival. It was a really interesting counterpoint to the larger Mormon culture.


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