Days of safety training and classroom learning are about to pay off for University students departing Sept. 3 for Alaska’s remote Interior and a 158-mile float trip along the Yukon River.
“For some of them, this is the first time they’ve put on a life jacket,” said Simon Frez-Albrecht, an Outdoor Studies major and among teaching assistants recruited for Expedition Alaska.
Expedition is a hybrid of classroom and field learning. Its goal is to introduce first-year and sophomore transfer students to active learning as they adjust to their new life in Alaska and at APU. The class is the only one of its kind in Alaska.
“What they learn out there is personal responsibility, and you can apply that here” in classes, Frez-Albrecht said. “You return from a trip like this one realizing, ‘I’m a rock star.’”
Pre-trip staging Aug. 29 turned the gym of Moseley Sports Center into an outdoor gear warehouse peopled by students in Xtratufs. River rafts, canoes and a boxed portable toilet were staged along with stacks of fruit snacks, tidy bags of bowtie pasta and big boxes of dehydrated hashbrowns.
Working together on tent set-up were first-year students Lauren Himmelreich from Spokane, Wash.; Maggie Schafter of Denver; and Tayler Duclos of Moore, Okla.
“Help me lift this up,” Himmelreich said, hoisting the tent. “OK, and I’ll look for pinholes,” Schafter said. The team was following instructions given by Expedition TA and outdoor guide Betsy Young,’03.
Himmelreich, 18, is a marine biology major who says Expedition Alaska was among reasons she chose APU. “I’m excited about learning,” she said. “I’ve made really good friends here. I already feel at home.”
Originally from Tel Aviv, 26-year-old Yarden Shalit enrolled in Expedition and is majoring in sustainability studies. He came to APU after working in Dutch Harbor as an oil spill first responder.
Shalit said he’s spent a lot of time along the Alaska coast, training and responding to accidents like the Kulluk drill rig grounding south of Kodiak Island in January. “But I’ve not journeyed inland,” he said.
Expedition students are organized into one of three topics – sustainability studies, natural history and wilderness skills – depending on their major. All three groups are traveling the river together from Eagle to Circle. Faculty includes University President Don Bantz, who’ll help teach the sustainability course.
Shalit said working in Alaska has convinced him that natural resource development has potential to displace Native people.
“I want to see how we can work with development so that it doesn’t hurt the subsistence lifestyle,” he said. “I want to see how I can help.”