MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Right now 16 Twin Cities college students are paddling down the Mississippi and getting an education along the way.

The group who shoved off from St. Paul a few weeks ago are part of the first River Semester. Augsburg College is offering the three-and-a-half-month program. Students will end their voyage at the southern end of the Mississippi, in Louisiana.

Blair Stewig, a sophomore from Maple Lake, shoved off from the shore around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.  She said she was ready as she hugged her mother and grandparents goodbye.

WCCO paddled close enough by to watch her and her classmates with our camera and capture the first two hours of their journey.

Just a minute into the trip, Stewig said, “I think that the river feels like home, and it’s going to be home for the next several months.”

She and 15 other Augsburg students, along with several guides and a professor, set sail from St. Paul in locally made voyager canoes. Some are tasked with taking soil samples, while others take pictures.

“I’m going to shoot a feature-length film, tentatively named ‘Learning to Listen: A Semester on the River,'” Augsburg Junior and Eagle Scout Ricky Taylor said.

From film to biology to the arts, students of many majors will study the Mississippi and its towns top to bottom, no matter the autumn elements.

“You kind of have to plan that every day’s going to be cold and rainy and then every sunny day’s a blessing,” Stewig said.

Paddling will be a way of life for these students.  It will take two months to get to St. Louis. In December, they’ll arrive in New Orleans.

“South for the winter, or at least part of the winter anyways,” Stewig said.

It appears they’ll be in good company: Eagle after eagle flew overhead as they started their journey in a classroom with no walls and more than 1,400 miles of space.

“We’re going to be like family, honestly, all of us,” Stewig said.

The students are expected to make it to Winona on Sept. 12, where they will visit students there, then on to Iowa.

They will camp at nights, read as they paddle and have classes at night as guest lecturers join in along the way.

To learn more about the inaugural program, go to Augsburg’s website.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

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