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Starting the semester on the river

river_classThe 15 students enrolled in Political Science 241: Environmental and River Politics are getting an early start to the academic year—a start that will feature eight days of travel on the Mississippi River in canoes.

Joe Underhill, a political science associate professor at Augsburg, has taught the course that examines the politics, eco-systems, and communities of the mighty river that flows just blocks from Augsburg’s Minneapolis campus. While he has taken previous classes out in canoes for a couple of days or a weekend, this is the most ambitious river voyage yet.

By the time the trip is complete on September 4, the class that includes primarily sophomore and junior students will have traveled about 100 miles on the Mississippi and spent seven nights camping.

This journey, which will be done in 24-foot voyageur canoes that hold 6-10 people, is not simply an outdoor vacation. The students will have reading to complete, they will do field work that includes water quality testing, and they will take one exam.

“I’ve tried doing it a number of different ways, but the challenge has always been getting students to be able to be gone for several days because of other classes or jobs,” Underhill said. “The longest trip before was four days and three nights.”

Each day on the river, students will paddle in the morning when it is cooler and mix paddling and field work in the afternoon. After setting up camp and having dinner, the evenings will be filled with class discussion, reading, and journaling.

The longest day of paddling will be a 22-mile journey, and the group will travel more than 15 miles on two of the other days. The students will also go through four locks. Wilderness Inquiry, a non-profit organization that aims to help people experience nature, will provide the canoes. They will have two staff members on the journey and will provide transportation back to Minneapolis after the trip is complete.

The trip—which is a required part of the course—will make up about half of the classroom time for the semester. Once back on campus, the group will continue to meet, but the course will end prior to the traditional end of the fall semester. The students will also work on a project during the semester and will present to the campus community in early November.


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