Rollin' on the river: Augsburg prepares to launch its first semester on the Mississippi

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Sixteen Augsburg college students will sleep in campsites instead of dorm rooms and will paddle rather than walk to their classes this fall as the Minneapolis private school begins its first River Semester.

The students will earn a full semester's college credit for the three-and-a-half month journey. The college's web page promoting the program comes complete with a countdown clock, ticking down the seconds until the Sept. 1 launch date from Harriet Island in St. Paul.

Paddling up to 25 hours a week in four 24-foot voyageur canoes, the students and their instructors will journey to New Orleans. Along the way, they’ll take classes and work on independent projects that focus on the Mississippi, studying its ecology, history and literature.

The Star Tribune reports Joe Underhill, an associate professor of political science, came up with the idea, telling the newspaper, “I think that kind of firsthand experience is so much more powerful than just reading about it in a book.”

On his website, Underhill wrote, "No college has done this before, and students in the program will have a chance to make history as the first cohort to travel the length of the Mississippi as part of a full semester program."

MPR News explained that students will end up paddling about half the trip, with much of that occurring in the first two months. As they arrive in the St. Louis area, they’ll alternate between shuttles and canoes, and will spend some nights in hostels in urban areas.

In mid-December, they’ll take the train home from New Orleans.

The fee, $7,500, is roughly equal to room and board on campus. That’s in addition to $17,400 in tuition.

There's a Kickstarter campaign by a photographer who will be along for the journey. He is trying to raise money for cameras and other water-resistant equipment for a documentary highlighting the adventures of the program.

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