Augustana students venture into Alaska wilderness

Augustana students embarked on an intense and perspective-altering journey through the Alaskan wilderness this summer. Through a rigorous trip to Alaska, students came away with a greater appreciation for nature and each other.

Thirteen students, led by professor David O’Hara, camped and hiked their way through several Alaskan state parks for three weeks. Along the journey students studied the cultural, ethical and legal issues that conflicted with resource management in Alaska and journaled about their experiences. At the end of the trip, students wrote about their experiences and ideas.

“We were immersed in wild places and let those wild places be our classroom and our laboratory and our research facility — our library so to speak,” O’Hara said.

One of the most unique and memorable parts of the trip, according to both the students and professors, was the community the class created during their three weeks in Alaska.

Ana McCabe said all the students on the trip came from varied backgrounds, and no one really knew each other before meeting on the trip.

“I think being out in the wilderness and having to filter out water for people, having to make sure the campsite was clean so no bears would come, […] setting up tents together, going to the bathroom with one another so that someone could watch out for bears, stuff like that, caused us all to become so much closer than if we had just gone on a trip and stayed in hotels because we all depended on one another,” McCabe said.

Nikolai Burow said he also ended the trip with long lasting friendships.

“By the end of the first week, we clicked so well, and by the second and third week we were all so close,” Burow said. “It was remarkable. We are all super good friends still.”

Both McCabe and Burow gained greater appreciation for nature and a greater understanding of the forces that threaten the environment.

McCabe, Burow and O’Hara all talked about meeting a fisherman on their journey and learning of her struggle to economically survive while being conflicted over the morality of her catches and the dying fish populations. Hearing her story deeply impacted the entire class and gave them a greater understanding of the complexity of environmental issues as play.

“There isn’t any simple lesson you learn from that,” O’Hara said. “You don’t know what the new policy ought to be, but the depth of understanding of people,and place and species that comes away from that is huge.”

Experiences like meeting the salmon

fisherman inspired Burow to work toward a

healthier environment.

“In a way it was very daunting because you see these things, and you’re like ‘how are we supposed to stop this?'” Burow said. “But then it’s nice because it reminds you that, no, we still have to try. […]  I can take steps here that will help. I can vote a certain way; I can be part of movements that make positive change. […]  It made me appreciate change at the local level.”

McCabe was similarly motivated to keep the passion and momentum she gained in Alaska going to create positive environmental change in South Dakota. The trip reinforced her goals and inspired her to be sustainable in all aspects

of her life.

When asked if he would teach a class like the Alaska trip again, O’Hara seemed hesitant to answer. While O’Hara is excited to teach more abroad and sustainability trips in the future, he does not think an experience like the Alaska trip

is repeatable.

“It’s hard to put it into words really simply, but I’ll tell you this: When class was over, I felt like if I never teach again I will still have taught the best class of my life,” O’Hara said. “Not because I’m such a great teacher, but because I had such a great class, just wonderful people in a wonderful place.”