How Augsburg is going all Mark Twain

Joe D via Flickr

Sixteen Augsburg College students will be roughing it this fall, paddling down the Mississippi for a little education in Augsburg’s new River Semester.

They, two professors and two river commercial expedition personnel will pack their supplies into canoes and shove off Sept. 1 on a trip to New Orleans.

They’ll sleep mostly in tents in campgrounds and on the river bank, and cook vittles found at farmers’ markets along the way.

When they’re not paddling, they’ll get a little schooling by the faculty members — classes such as “Democracy in the American Heartland.” In a tip of the hat to Alexis de Tocqueville, students in that one will interview folks along the river about things such as politics, race relations and their views of government.

Augsburg political science professor Joe Underhill, organizer of the program, says traveling the river will give students the opportunity to engage people they might not normally encounter, and to take the national temperature as they go “from mostly blue to mostly red states.”

And each student will carry out a river-related project — such as testing water quality, mapping the bottom of the river, or measuring light pollution.

Students will “get that broad exposure to the American heartland,” Underhill said. “They also get just a really intense experience that will be life-changing for them in a way that you just can’t replicate by staying in the Twin Cities.”

Because classes and projects will slow the trip down, Underhill said, the students will end up paddling 1,000 miles or so — about half of the trip. Much of the paddling will occur in the first two months. Beginning around St. Louis, they’ll alternate between shuttles and canoes, and will overnight in the occasional hostel in urban areas.

They’ll return in mid-December by train.

Underhill says the trip should also teach the students a lot about environmental sustainability.

“We could have a really amazing experience and do it with virtually no carbon [footprint],” he said.

Students will get a full semester’s credit.