The Edge in Wyoming

Instructor and Program Contact: Dr. Andrew Lotz

Andrew Lotz, PhD, Assistant Dean of Arts and Sciences, Lecturer and Academic Advisor in Political Science

2016 Tina and David Bellet Teaching Excellence Award winner


The Edge in Wyoming is a summer experience that will give Pitt students the opportunity to understand the politics and people of the American West. Students will earn six credits which fulfill a total of three Dietrich School Arts and Sciences general education requirements: a writing course (W-course), an international culture (comparative) course, and a non-western international culture requirement. Students will tackle two critical areas in the coursework and extracurricular activities: 1) environmental policy writing with a focus on making connections and comparisons between the environmental concerns of the West versus the Rust Belt, and 2) the political development of the American West, focused particularly on the experiences of Native populations in North America and their continued responses to colonization and political development efforts by European settlers and the U.S. government.

This is a four week study away program at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, WY. The program is offered in 4-Week-2 Summer Session from June 12 - July 8, 2017. Students will live in dormitory housing and have a meal plan. Students are responsible for arranging and paying for their travel to the University of Wyoming.


Students should have completed at least one year of full-time undergraduate work (or its equivalent) before participating in this program.


Environmental Policy Writing (3 credits, W-course, modeled after PS 1681 Political Science Capstone)

In this writing-focused course, students will be exposed to the variety of modes in which policy writing about environmental affairs is conducted, with an emphasis on training the students to write in those modes themselves. Students will end the class with a portfolio of public policy writing with an environmental issues focus, useful for students in the social sciences seeking careers in government and government relations, students in the humanities seeking careers in journalism or persuasive writing, and especially students in the natural sciences interested in careers linked to the making of science policy. The course will explore the methods of constructing policy statements, as well as the varied trajectory of how policy statements are put into law. The course provides hands-on training for the type of work that anyone interested in changing the environment will find necessary for success. In particular, it will work to introduce the two different areas of environmental policy that the course is uniquely positioned to explore in tandem: the American West and the Shale Oil fields/coal mines of Western Pennsylvania/West Virginia.

Political Development the American West (3 credits, Non-Western and an International Culture Comparative course, modeled after PS 1302 Political Development)

The course description for PS 1302 Political Development is as follows: "This course will examine the major problems involved in the study and understanding of change in 'less developed countries,' the main approaches and theories applied to these problems, and the criticisms directed at some of these approaches.  In particular, it will consider attempts to understand 'development' by reference to the earlier experiences of Europe and the United States and will evaluate the relevance of such an approach to the current problems of the underdeveloped world.​" In the context of the Edge in Wyoming, this course will be focused upon the way these narratives played out in the experience of American expansion. Special attention will be paid to the way that beliefs and narratives of what is "developed", "modern", and "proper" figured into the clash between American/European colonists and settlers and the native populations of the United States, and recognizing how the native population's experience shaped and shapes their political situation. Readings and discussions will give students not only a sense of the broader Political Development literature, but also the unique eddies and clashes of thought that happened during westward expansion (e.g. the difference in beliefs about contract keeping and what constituted contract: signed accord on paper versus beaded treaty belt).


The course includes exposure to a variety of special guest speakers (on topics such as environmental issues and the Native American experience of political development) who will be involved in extended classroom discussions. In addition, the course offers field trips enabling students to visit the state capital and meet with policy experts and lobbyists as well as to meet with members of the Native populations of Wyoming in a way respectful to their voice, their stories, and their lives.


The two courses in this program are complementary.  Students completing this study away program in Laramie, WY and under the direction of Dr. Lotz will gain unique insights into environmental policy and political developments. This experience cannot be replicated on campus.

During the four week intensive program, students will produce tangible and usable materials, which can benefit a wide array of fields. Students from all backgrounds will find great value in this program. Natural science students will learn about public policy. Social sciences and humanities students will be intrigued by studying the American colonial experience in the West and resistance to its impact. Students from the eastern states will experience the landscape and lifestyle differences of the American West.