New Study Away program travels to Arcosanti, Arizona

The School of Media and Communication is offering a program to Arcosanti, Arizona during spring break.

Associate Dean for Graduate Studies Patrick Murphy is one of two faculty advisers for the Arcosanti, Arizona Study Away program this spring break. MAX SIMONS FOR THE TEMPLE NEWS

Patrick Murphy, associate dean for graduate studies in the School of Media and Communication, said the deserts of Arcosanti, Arizona are a new “means in which to think about things.”

“At night, there’s no city lights so you’re looking at the stars and you’re thinking about life on Earth,” Murphy said.

During Spring Break 2017, about 15 students will fly to Arcosanti for a new SMC Study Away program. The application closed Saturday.

Arcosanti was created in 1970 by architect Paolo Soleri as an urban experiment and embodiment of arcology, a concept Soleri founded that combines architecture and ecology. The idea was to create “a sustainable community,” said Allie Miller, assistant director of SMC Study Away.

“They don’t have any air conditioning units, but the way the architect used arches and natural lighting and windows, it created a naturally cool indoor environment,” Miller said.

Murphy and Barry Vacker, a professor of media studies and production, will co-teach “Media, Ecology and Technology” on the trip.  The three-credit course will focus on the relationship between humans and their natural environment. Key topics will include architecture, sustainability, media, technology and ecology.

The cost of housing and accommodations will be included in the overall payment for the trip, along with a meal plan, transportation costs and group field trips to places like the Grand Canyon, the Biosphere  2 and Montezuma’s Castle. Students are required to create a multimedia project based on their experience once the week-long program comes to an end.

Although the course will primarily focus on the role of media and how it affects the environment, the study away program is offered to all students at Temple from any college or major.

“It’s primarily for students with the School of Media and Communication, but if the students can find a way in which they can transfer their credits into say a business program, tourism, sociology, anthropology, whatever program education they’re coming from, we would certainly work with them to help make that possible,” Murphy said.

Miller added that Vacker’s idea behind this program stems from showing how we live in an “illuminated city” like Philadelphia.

Abby Moore, a junior media studies and production major, said going to Arcosanti is a way to avoid “sitting around at home” during her spring break.

“Instead, I’ll be living in an awesome experimental city, visiting the Grand Canyon and exploring the area,” she wrote in an email.

Moore added that she is excited to make the documentary film since “the views around Arcosanti are so gorgeous.”

Vacker and Murphy started to discuss the possibility of a study away program in Arizona a few years ago, but due to their conflicting schedules, the program had to be pushed back. The conversation reignited when Vacker visited Arcosanti with a colleague and a student in 2012.

Vacker, who visited Arcosanti for the first time in 1999, said the town is a “spectacular desert setting” where he had the pleasure of meeting people from all over the world.

“It is a walkable small city, with cars kept on the outside and plenty of spots for quiet, solitude, conversation and beautiful views,” Vacker wrote in an email.

Murphy wants to encourage students to go out of their comfort zones, even if it’s just for a few days, in order to “get away from things for awhile.”

“It’s going to be a week of really thinking and then being creative within the context of an environmental community,” Murphy said.

“Sometimes you need to step away from your own life to really see it clearly,” he added.

Murphy added that this will be his first time in Arcosanti and said he is excited to “be discovering along with the students.”

Murphy said climate change is “the defining issue of our times,” and he hopes that the course will make students consider how important sustainability is in their media professions and everyday lives.

“Students will be able to really think about some ways in which they can look at sustainability, their relationship with the environment and their relationship with technology, in ways that will be professionally gratifying, but also personally gratifying,” Murphy said.

“This is going to be fun, but it’s going to be more exploratory,” Murphy added. “Really just sort of thinking about life hopefully from one’s own perspective, but in a way that’s big.”

Michele Mendez can be reached at

Emily Scott contributed reporting.

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