Our vision for Inian Islands Institute is to provide a unique brand of education to students of environmental sciences and sustainability. Students in these disciplines today are challenged by the setting of their education: universities are increasingly urbanized and entwined in the globalized economy and flow of resources. Students learn from computer screens inside the buildings of a sprawling modern campus, while their food, water, and power are piped to them from unknown places, arriving as lifeless and storyless commodities. In this setting, students lose sight of their vital connections to their environment and resources – the things that sustain them, and inspire their work as rising environmental leaders.
At Inian Islands Institute, students will experience the deep connections to their environment and resources firsthand. Coming to the Hobbit Hole for month-long field courses, students will undertake rigorous coursework focusing on the rich local ecology – with the classroom all around them in the form of spectacular temperate rainforests and Pacific fjords. But in their tromps through old growth stands and kayak trips to nearby seabird colonies, students will shed the traditional perspective of detached scientific observers. Rather, they will approach their studies from a human perspective, constantly mindful of their own role in the local ecology: the resources they consume, wastes they produce, and myriad interactions with fellow species. From this perspective, their study of ecology will not be merely an academic exercise, but a vantage point from which to observe human-environment interactions in the broader context of the southeast Alaska region, where human subsistence and local economies depend upon direct natural resource extraction through fishing, timber, and mining. In classroom discussions and evening reflections, students will consider these connections from local to global scales, and consider what must be done – or not done – to sustain them into the future. In this way, the Hobbit Hole will be the world’s first field institute dedicated to the emerging discipline of Coupled Human-Natural Systems.
The Hobbit Hole is an ideal place to establish this landmark field school, because its remote setting makes human-environment interactions clearly visible, not obscured by the high walls and complex supply chains of modern society. Off-grid and isolated, the Hobbit Hole illustrates, as few remaining places can, the conscientious use of local resources: salmon, garden vegetables, rainwater, firewood, and renewable power generated by the turbine in the creek. To spend time at the Hobbit Hole is to conscientiously take part in a web of ecological relationships, and so be reminded of one’s place in the ecosystem, and humanity’s role in the living world. For students who believe that food comes from the dining hall, water from the tap, and power from the wall, coming to the Hobbit Hole will be a truly eye-opening experience. Furthermore, the remarkable Hobbit Hole property is a private inholding surrounded for miles in every direction by protected, uninhabited Wilderness. Thus, it can provide students with an unparalleled wilderness immersion experience, while still providing the comfort and safety of a beautiful, authentic Alaskan homestead as a base.
With their relationships to the surrounding ecosystem laid bare, students will participate in a Coupled Human-Natural System in the phenomenal Wilderness of southeast Alaska. Our mission is that the lessons and adventures of this unique educational experience will inform and inspire our students through a lifetime of wise environmental leadership.