Make The Connection

December 21, 2021 | By Cole Hatcher

Ohio Wesleyan student Elliot Spicer ’24 climbs down into a river-carved canyon formed within Vatnajökull Glacier, one of the largest glaciers in Europe. He traveled to the Nordic nation this fall to conduct research with professor Nathan Rowley, Ph.D. (Photos courtesy of Elliot Spicer)

Ecotourism in Iceland

Ohio Wesleyan Student, Professor Explore Costs of Using Finite Resources to Support Tourism

Elliot Spicer ’24 kneels inside an ice cave at the entrance of Vatnajökull Glacier during an OWU Connection-supported trip to study the costs vs. benefits of the nation’s using its limited resources to support eco-friendly tourism.

Name: Elliot Spicer ’24
Hometown: Newark, Ohio
Majors: Economics and Environmental Studies
OWU Connection Experience: Travel to Iceland to study the costs and benefits of ecotourism

Elliot Spicer ’24 and Nathan Rowley, Ph.D., associate professor of Environment and Sustainability, visited Iceland for nearly two weeks this fall to research the “Benefits, Costs, and Spatial Trends of Ecotourism in Iceland.” Their trip was supported by a University-funded Theory-to-Practice Grant (TPG), part of The OWU Connection.

Their goal, Spicer explains, was to “discover the benefits that have been brought on by using Iceland’s finite natural resources for ecotourism and determine at what cost those benefits are being utilized.”

My Favorite Moment

“Although it seems impossible to pick just one moment, my favorite moment of my TPG experience to Iceland was trekking through the ice caves and up the Vatnajökull Glacier – the largest and most voluptuous ice cap in Iceland. It felt as if I were on another planet.”

OWU’s Nathan Rowley, Ph.D., associate professor of Environment and Sustainability, visits Snæfellsnes Peninsula during his research trip to Iceland.

Lessons Learned

“We were able to learn about economic gain and the increase of social ability that has come in the past 15 years. Restaurants, malls, new infrastructure, and jobs are just some of the benefits that residents have been provided with since the rapid increase of ecotourism.

“While trekking the side of the Vatnajökull glacier in Southeast Iceland, I was told by a native guide that ‘there is no such thing as ecotourism.’ What he meant is that Iceland’s natural resources would be much better off if none of us were there. He continued to explain that this does not mean we should stop appreciating the natural world, we just need to do a better job of protecting it.”

Life-Changing Experience

“After completing my Theory-to-Practice Grant experience, I can truly say that it has been the most rewarding experience of my life. When starting the TPG proposal in my freshman year Global Scholars Program seminar, the idea of actually being able to do this research seemed like a dream, and never could I have pictured that it would actually happen.

“The process of creating and submitting the proposal taught me to work diligently, to focus strongly on detail, to set strategic goals, and to make adjustments when necessary. Dr. Rowley was very helpful in the process, creating an independent study and guiding me through what I should be doing to create my goals.”

Elliot Spicer ’24 visits Gullfoss (‘Golden Falls’) in Southwest Iceland during his OWU Connection trip to study the nation’s ecotourism.

What’s Next

“At the moment, Dr. Rowley is teaching me how to use ArcGIS (online mapping and information analysis software) so that I can create a story map, illustrating my TPG experience and spatial data collected by conducting surveys across Iceland. This platform allows me to create interactive articles with pictures, maps, survey data, and stories of the experience. Because we collected spatial data, we are working to display that data on a map that shows how perceptions of ecotourism change throughout the country (the farther we traveled from Reykjavik). …

“I believe that this TPG experience changed the way I view myself and my future. Now that I have completed the travel experience, I am working to learn more about the environmental economics field. I have added a second major in Environmental Studies and have begun to notice many connections between my TPG experience and my academic course load.

“I look forward to continuing to learn how to use ArcGIS, so that I am able to better display and understand my data and soon present it to students at OWU and others who are interested in learning more about ecotourism in Iceland.”

Why I Chose Ohio Wesleyan

“Opportunities like this are the reason I chose OWU. First, the ability to know and collaborate with my professors, such as Dr. Rowley, is very helpful when progressing through my academic career. This along with the ability to go out and see the world through the OWU connection program is why I chose OWU.”

My Plans After Graduation

“Because of this experience, I am able to plan for post-graduation much easier. I want to go into a career within the environmental economics field and attend grad school in a place that offers programs similar to the TPG program. I think it is safe to say that my standards have been set by OWU for post-grad.”