• Minnesota’s North Shore becomes St. Thomas’ newest classroom

    For years St. Thomas students have been able to participate in fascinating study-abroad programs throughout the world. Now they also have the opportunity to study closer to home in one of Minnesota’s most spectacular settings.

    The St. Thomas Educational Policy Committee recently approved the university’s full participation in a program called Superior Studies at Wolf Ridge, which is based on the North Shore of Lake Superior at the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center.

    In addition to accredited academic coursework in biology, humanities and social sciences, the program offers work and research opportunities, wilderness experiences, community living and service-learning projects.

    Superior Studies began two years ago as a St. Olaf College program and has evolved into a consortium of seven Minnesota private colleges and universities. In addition to St. Olaf and St. Thomas, members are St. John’s, St. Benedict, Gustavus Adolphus, Hamline and Concordia Moorhead.

    Beginning next summer, courses will be offered during both summer sessions, fall semester and January Term. Courses are taught by faculty from the participating schools, including St. Thomas’ wolf expert Dr. Mark Neuzil, of the Journalism Department, and Dr. Steve Hoffman of the Political Science Department and chair of the university’s Environmental Studies Program.

    When they aren’t on overnight or weeklong backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, snowshoeing or dogsledding excursions, students live and study at the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center, the first accredited environmental school in the nation. It is located on 1,400 acres overlooking Lake Superior in Finland, Minn., about an hour’s drive up the North Shore from Duluth.

    The center is situated between Tettegouche and Crosby-Manitou state parks, and is near both the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and the Superior Hiking Trail.

    Upcoming courses planned for next year include Conservation Biology, Environment and Literature, Endangered Cultures, Environmental Ethics, Theology and Moral Life, Literature and the Environment, Writing About Nature, American Environmental History, Minnesota Natural History, and individualized physical education courses.

    Credit for the courses can be applied to students’ major field or general requirements. Credits are similar to those earned through other St. Thomas-affiliated programs, such as Washington Semester, the Upper Midwest Association for Intercultural Education (UMAIE) or the large number of study-abroad programs.

    Enrollment in each session is expected to be about 30 students. The program currently shares classroom and dorm facilities with the Environmental Learning Center. Starting next fall, Superior Studies will have dedicated faculty and program offices, classrooms, laboratories, computer rooms, a library and community lodge for up to 32 students.

    Junior Michel Clausen is one St. Thomas student who already has attended the Superior Studies program. A double major in English and environmental studies, Clausen spent part of last summer taking the Writer in Nature class taught by noted wilderness author Paul Gruchow, an English professor at Concordia Moorhead.

    Clausen, a resident of Hudson, Wis., and a former camp counselor, also led other college students on canoe trips in the BWCA and backpacking trips on the Superior Hiking Trail. Next summer she’ll work at Wolf Ridge as a full-time trip leader.

    “It’s an amazing experience, hands down and thumbs up,” she said. “This is a program that can apply to all majors. In addition to the traditional learning, the wilderness field trips give students a sense of their place in the world and build self-confidence.

    “The courses help you understand your role in nature, and how traditional liberal arts courses fit into our understanding of the environment,” she said.

    Each six-week summer session course, she noted, begins with a weeklong backpack, canoe or kayak trip. Three-day weekends during the remainder of the session feature more trips and excursions.

    One course proposed for next summer that Clausen might help lead is a five-week kayak trip that will study the history of Lake Superior.

    Clausen will visit classes at St. Thomas this semester to discuss the Superior Studies program and her experiences there last summer.

    Students interested in participating in Superior Studies, or St. Thomas faculty members interested in teaching courses at Wolf Ridge, can receive more information by calling Hoffman at (651) 962-5723, or e-mailing him at smhoffman@stthomas.edu.

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