GREAT WEATHER, BREATHTAKING scenery and hard work for a good cause added up to an inspiring Alternative Spring Break for 27 USC students and their staff advisers, who built a trail and new campsites and cleared brush from a canyon in Death Valley National Park.
The worst part of the trip? Five flat tires and a dead battery in one of the four-wheel drive vehicles students used to reach their remote work site, says staff adviser Dick Cone.
The best part? Everything else.
It was as close to perfection as possible, Cone says. It was a good group of people who did a lot of work, and the weather was great. We saw a canopy of stars every night; we even saw the comet Hale-Bopp. It was glorious.
Cone, who is director of the Joint Educational Project, and the students built a one-third mile trail in Jail Canyon, the canyon they adopted for conservation work during their first trip last year. The new trail is important; previously, hikers had to walk through a stream bed to access the canyon, disturbing a delicate ecosystem.
The USC group also built five new campsites in Mesquite Springs Camp-ground, an out-of-the-way site that park rangers are trying to promote to disperse the crush of tourists on the valley floor. And in the Furnace Creek area, students and advisers did the back-breaking work of clearing dead vegetation left when a water pipeline was buried and a previously exposed irrigation trench dried up.
THE STUDENTS, WHO stayed in primitive campgrounds without showers, usually worked in the cool mornings and did some sightseeing in the afternoons. One morning, students staying in the Wildrose campground at 4,100 feet elevation were treated to the sight of a spectacular sunrise over the Funeral Mountains, Cone said.
In the evenings, students would lead reflective sessions around a campfire, covering such subjects as park history and geology. One student led a discussion on the impact of tourism in the park, a subject he had researched for academic credit. Two other students did work toward papers they wrote after the trip.
All of us worked incredibly hard, says Paul Bunje, a junior who was one of the trips leaders, and after the work was done we had some very thought-provoking discussions about what we were doing and environmentalism in general.
The School of Engineering jumped up five rungs, from 19th in 1996 to 14th, in the March 10 U.S. News & World Report rankings of Americas best graduate schools. The annual issue ranks schools, departments and programs using a formula that includes a survey of scholars in each field to determine reputation and other factors such as faculty productivity. As in past rankings, USCs School of Cinema-Television tied with NYUs film school for the No. 1 ranking among film schools. Also making the top 10, the School of Social Work ranked eighth in the nation. The School of Music ranked 12th, tying with the Manhattan School of Music in New York. The Law School again ranked 15th nationally, and the School of Pharmacy ranked 18th.