Summer Journeys: Lessons from Iceland

During the first weeks of the academic year, Carly Borken’s AP Environmental Science students turn their focus to a study of the earth’s tectonic places. This year, the learning gets personal: Borken spent part of the summer in Iceland, living and learning where the Eurasian and North American plates meet.

“Iceland is one of the only places in the world to see the effects of two major tectonic plates drifting apart,” says Borken, who, in a memorable moment during her trip, stood with one foot firmly planted on each of the plates. “Understanding the earth’s changing landscapes and the effect that has on where and how people live was at the core of my time in Iceland; it is also at the core of our AP Environmental Science curriculum.”

Borken is Taft’s director of environmental stewardship. She teaches AP Human Geography and AP Environmental Science. She is part of the Science Department and the Global Studies and Service Department. She established the farming and eco mons programs at Taft. 

“I thought I was a perfect candidate for the summer program,” Borken says. “Fortunately they did, too.

Borken traveled to Iceland with the National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE), a 100-year old non-profit organization providing resources, support, advocacy, and opportunities for geography teachers at every level. She traveled with a dozen or so high school teachers, and as many college professors.

“Geography is a big topic,” notes Borken. “There were geologists, volcanologists, and glaciologists on the trip. Their extensive knowledge provided an additional set of resources for us.”

An island nation with 350,000 residents, Iceland is volcanically and geographically active. Its diverse and changing landscapes make the island itself a dynamic classroom and laboratory. Its social, environmental, and economic policies make it a model for recovery, environmental stewardship, and sustainability.

“Like the United States, Iceland experienced economic collapse in 2008,” Borken explains. “Tourism has contributed to Iceland’s recovery, but so has smart economic policy and forward-thinking environmental policies and initiatives. Iceland actively recruits immigrants, for example, to help with infrastructure and development.”

They also effectively tap the full potential of their natural resources:  Iceland runs almost completely on geothermal and hydro powered renewable energy. Borken visited Icelandic New Energy headquarters during her stay, learning directly from the nation’s renewable energy experts. She visited a fish processing plant, where Iceland’s “value-added” economic policy maximizes the island’s sustainability while establishing global commerce systems. She walked on glaciers, observed active geysers, and studied natural hazards and disaster prevention. All of which she says, will easily make its way into her classrooms.

 “Iceland was a sensory overload of environmental and geography concepts,” says Borken. “I spent time with the culture and community, learning family stories and agriculture, and the intense wonders of the natural resource provided by living on a volcano! It was definitely the most impactful educational travel I have experienced.”

Borken participated in the GeoCamp Iceland Institute, through the National Council for Geographic Education. Her travel was made possible in part by The Davis Fellowship, part of Taft’s Professional Education Grant (PEG) program.