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Dubuque a stop for college students studying and traveling Mississippi River in nation’s first-ever River Semester

Class paddled more than 250 miles since leaving St. Paul on Sept. 1

River semester canoes filled with trip gear(MINNEAPOLIS) – The Mississippi River and four, 24-foot voyageur canoes are home and classroom for a group of Augsburg College students who will be in Dubuque from Sept. 28-30 as part of the nation’s first-ever River Semester.

The students, who have paddled more than 250 miles of river since departing St. Paul on Sept. 1 as part of their nearly 2,350-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico, will earn as many as 16 credits in biology, environmental studies, health and physical education, and political science.

“The canoes are a floating classroom where students translate into action what they learn on shore during lectures and from their reading and homework,” said Professor Joe Underhill, creator of this hands-on learning program.

“Each student also is responsible for personal research project, some in partnership with state and national agencies. Some of these projects contribute to the common good, and every project is a chance for teamwork and collaborative excellence.”

The dozen students participating in this hands-on learning program, created by Underhill, is offered in partnership with Wilderness Inquiry, a nonprofit and inclusive travel provider that specializes in experiential programming and outdoor travel for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities.

“We know that what happens in the boats transfers to the classroom and life,” said Chad Dayton, director of programs and partner relations for Wilderness Inquiry. “Students develop increased confidence, better relationships with faculty, and throughout their college careers, they have a shared experience to refer back to that can help with problem solving.”

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.

Students will return to the Twin Cities via train in mid-December and will arrive at St. Paul Union Depot.

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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