Talent Search plans cultural, service trip to Montana

A group of Western North Carolina high school students will fly to Montana to explore and participate in service-learning projects on two Native American reservations through a new summer enrichment experience offered by Educational Talent Search at Western Carolina University.

Participants in the program’s first “On the Road Service Learning and Cultural Exchange” will spend June 9-16 at the Flathead Indian Reservation, home to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes, and Browning, the largest community on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

Students selected from seven schools will bond together and to their host communities as they stay in teepees, cook most of their own food and learn as they work on service projects such as planting endemic plant species in Glacier National Park.

“We want to expose them to different ways of viewing the world,” said Todd Murdock, director of Educational Talent Search at WCU. “This trip is going to rock their world from the beginning when they fly on an airplane, which 17 participants have never done before, to when they land in a place they’ve only heard of. They will meet a group of people who have a very rich culture that is very different from their own.”

Talent Search is a federally funded program designed to increase the number of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who graduate from high school and pursue higher education.

The program hosted at Western offers academic, career and financial counseling to 900 seventh- to 12th-grade students. Sponsored activities include college visits, courses in decision-making and study skills, career aptitude tests, tutoring, SAT preparation and outdoor activities.

One past summer enrichment program – “Expedition of Rediscovery” – invited high school students to challenge themselves physically and mentally as they retraced the path of famed explorers Lewis and Clark on bikes and in boats.

This summer’s experiential education and service learning program was developed in partnership with Talent Search in Montana, which will bring students next summer to Western North Carolina.

“This trip will broaden the students’ horizons,” said Jane Adams-Dunford, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs at WCU. “They will see education and life in a new perspective when they return.”

The only cost to participate was the price of airfare. With assistance from people such as Tim Inman, assistant director for Greek life and student organizations at WCU, participants helped lower their expense through fundraisers including a raffle, car wash, bake sale and dance.

During the program, students will keep journals, and a group blog will chronicle their activities in pictures and words at http://tsontheroad.blogspot.com/.

“We think this kind of program, through exposing students to an unfamiliar environment, challenges them to develop intellectually and personally,” Murdock said. “This will be an awesome trip.”

For more information about Educational Talent Search at Western Carolina University, check out http://www.wcu.edu/talentsearch/ or contact Todd Murdock at (828) 227-7137 or tmurdock@wcu.edu.