River semester: The Mississippi
100 days, 15 students, 4 canoes, and 1 river. As I stood on the bank of the Mississippi River in Dubuque, Iowa and looked across at the opposite side where the corners of Illinois and Wisconsin joined together along the flowing water, I contemplated the journey that lay ahead. Currently the spring was giving way to summer and soon I’d be paddling these waters as summer gave way to fall.
As part of an immersive study away experience, Augsburg University, in conjunction with Wilderness Inquiry, runs a program aptly called River Semester. Students spend an academic semester paddling the great Mississippi River while taking a full course load of credits. Academic staff and outdoor guides accompany the students along this journey as they spend 4 months engaging in immersive learning and experiential education. For 100 days the students live, study, and play alongside the river.
River Semester has its roots in blending academic learning with place-based learning. A combination designed to introduce students to subjects and topics while encouraging them to experience them first hand. For example, on this semester students took a biology course studying stream and river ecology while conducting stream samples along the river. They collected a set of data at each stream and then compared them to see how streams and environments differed at various places in the river system. Each student had an individualized course load and took a variety of courses related to their overall focus of study. All completed an independent study that combined their experience of the river and an academic topic such as history, political science, biology, communication, etc.
In addition to direct study, the students were also responsible for their everyday lives along the river. They set up camp every evening and broke it every morning, they cooked all their meals and did their grocery resupplies, they paddled every mile to their next campsite, they laughed and formed community, they endured near constant rain, severe storms, cold, snow and a river in continual flood. All of this while completing classes, writing papers, studying, and sitting for exams. The journey was not easy, it was a continual reminder of challenge and how to move within and beyond challenge.
Despite the hardships, one thing rose above all else and that was a sense of community – our own and that of communities around us. Often mired by bad weather, we found ourselves in a position of reaching out to local river communities to offer us assistance. The graciousness of these people was a constant light in even the stormiest of days. People fed us, sheltered us, took us into their homes, brought us games, built us fires, let us pet their dogs, and baked us dozens of cookies. They watched over us and followed our progress. They reached out when they saw a new storm or flooded portion near our location. They called their friends in towns we passed through to give them a heads up that we were coming. A ribbon of support and generosity tied us to the people along the river’s banks.
River Semester taught us much about our studies, ourselves, and our communities. Just as rivers shape the landscapes they weave through, so the Mississippi shaped our lives for those four months. It is hard to give written words to that time, but perhaps Kenneth Grahame sums it up best through his characters in The Wind in the Willows: “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
Who are Intrepidus Outdoors?
an adventure tourism and outdoor purcuits provider based in Edinburgh, Scotland. We specialise in great outdoor activities including hill walking, canyoning, coasteering and canoeing. We deliver these adventures to different clients which include stag groups and hen parties and adults visiting Edinburgh. At Intrepidus we also like to provide interesting and informative blog posts about our experiences of Edinburgh!
Enjoyed this blog? Check Out:
· Bucket List for 2019: here
· The best breakfast spots in Edinburgh: here
· The best hotels and hostels in Edinburgh: here
· Planning a Hen Party to Edinburgh: here
· Edinburgh Stag Party Ideas: here