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Back-to-school for 16 Augsburg students means traveling the length of Mississippi River as part of nation’s first-ever River Semester

Students, from Sept. 1 to mid-December, will study, live, travel more than 1,795 miles on Mississippi from St. Paul to the Gulf of Mexico

(MINNEAPOLIS) – A class of 16 Augsburg College students led by Professor Joe Underhill will depart Sept. 1 in 24-foot voyageur canoes to spend the semester studying, researching and living on the river. The students taking part in the nation’s first-ever River Semester will travel nearly 2,000 miles of the 2,350-mile-long Mississippi River to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. The group will depart from Kelley’s Landing on St. Paul’s Harriet Island in a launch event that is open to the public.

Students participating in this hands-on, interdisciplinary program will earn as many as 16 credits studying biology, environmental studies, health and physical education, and political science.

“The River Semester is a great example of the interdisciplinary, hands-on education for which Augsburg College is known. It shows the dedication of our faculty to build and deliver engaging learning programs that foster civic engagement,” said Augsburg College President Paul C. Pribbenow.

During the trip, students will:

  • Conduct a field research project on a topic such as water pollution, the Clean Water Act, agriculture in the watershed, political organizing around environmental issues, race relations and social justice, or urban riverfront revitalization.
  • Explore the history, literature, food, music and culture of the Mississippi River.
  • Gain skills tailored to meet the needs of partner organizations, including businesses,  graduate schools, nonprofits and government agencies.
  • Attend town hall meetings and meet with environmental organizations along the river.
  • Hear from guest lecturers about authors Mark Twain and William Faulkner, ancient river civilizations, American Indian communities and their fight for justice, and the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

To deliver the program, Augsburg is partnering with Wilderness Inquiry, a nonprofit and inclusive travel provider that specializes in educational programming and outdoor travel for persons with disabilities.

“Wilderness Inquiry has a decades-long commitment to place-based and environmental education. We’re thrilled to be part of this innovative, experiential program that is a first in higher education,” said Jeff Kemnitz, outreach director for Wilderness Inquiry.

Students will return to the Twin Cities via train on Dec. 17 and will arrive at St. Paul Union Depot.

Members of the media are invited to join the launch event, paddling about two hours from St. Paul to South St. Paul as part of a flotilla of 13 voyageur canoes that will include the Augsburg students, parents, high school students and members of the Augsburg community. Transportation will be provided from South St. Paul back to Kelley’s Landing.

An overview of the trip can be found on the River Semester website.


  • Stephanie Weiss, Augsburg College Director of News and Media Services, 612.330.1476
  • Jeffrey Kemnitz, Wilderness Inquiry Outreach Director, 612.676.9427
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