- Associated Press - Sunday, August 17, 2014

MACON, Ga. (AP) - A lone teepee rises from the green grass of the quadrangle at the heart of Wesleyan College.

The canvas and wood contraption will greet students as they return to campus, but it won’t be there long.

It is destined for the college’s 104-acre arboretum of forest and trails.

Education professor Patrick Pritchard and his STEM scholarship students — those studying science, technology, engineering or math — used the ancient abode to get a jump start on learning.

Through a boot camp on spacial reasoning, the students adopted skills related to shapes, distance and measuring.

“The students are using this to learn how to take something from pieces and put it together in a three-dimensional living space,” Pritchard said.

With a teepee kit ordered from Native Americans in Montana, the students cut and shaped poles and erected the elliptical cone early Wednesday morning.

“Kids are not as much into outside play and games. This is where a lot of special reasoning is learned,” Pritchard said.

The camp also includes art lessons exploring 3-D reasoning in a two-dimensional space, and estimating size and distance based on bird silhouettes, he said.

The scholarship students returned a week early for the program, funded in part by a National Science Foundation grant.

The teepee kit comes with instructions, but that does not mean it is easy to put up.

The first time the team put up the posts, they were too wide for the canvas.

When the pole spacing was correct, the canvas was on backwards.

One of the women has Native American ancestry, but the task was still counter-intuitive.

“It was a lot of work,” said Jayme Hitchcock, of Gordon, who is about 1/16th Native American.

As the class struggled with the canvas, McKenna Hartman was called over from her work shaping the last two poles.

“McKenna, will you come tie your knot?” one of the students asked.

The biology major from Savannah said she has no special rope training.

“I just did like a loop knot,” said the junior, who was relatively new to SPARC, or Student Preparation and Retention Collaborative.

“It’s exhausting, but fun,” she said. “We’re getting to do a lot of difficult things.”

After Friday, the group will forever be linked to their handiwork. Pritchard and the students will be sealing the project by painting their hand prints on the canvas.

Once the teepee was complete, Pritchard gathered the students inside to dedicate it with an authentic smudge.

He lit a dried bunch of sage, which gave off the smoky aroma of incense as each woman shared thoughts about the project and the tent’s final resting place on a platform that will be built at the arboretum.

“I think it looks fabulous,” Prichard remarked as the class started packing up.

“You’ll have more experience when you put it up for the arboretum,” Hartman told him.

“You guys may actually be putting it up,” he replied.

“Oh, really?” she said with a laugh.

Gray’s Elise Harris was ready to spend the night inside, but Qadan Farah of Jonesboro was not quite ready for that, even though she found it quite comfortable.

“It was really cool, not hot at all,” Farah said.

Harris hopes it inspires other students.

“I hope when people see it that they realize that it took a team to do all of this and that they realize that you can’t really get anywhere on your own.”

___

Information from: The Macon Telegraph, http://www.macontelegraph.com

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