The email message from Will contained one line: HAVE YOUR STUDENTS BRING RAIN GEAR. For the last ten years students from the Cambridge campus of Anoka Ramsey Community College have donned a variety of gear at the Steger Wilderness Center for a wide range of volunteer activities. These students, in groups as large as 20, make their way to the Steger Center from the Ethics class taught by Peter Wahlstrom, who saw Will’s ongoing project to turn his Homestead into a wilderness institute as a great Service Learning opportunity.
Last weekend students from Wahlstrom’s Ethics class were joined by students from the campus environmental club – ‘e-club’ – to tackle a number of projects. On Friday in a steady cold drizzle students spent the morning quarrying rock and the afternoon digging holes for planting trees. On Saturday the sky began to clear and by noon the autumn sun shone down on glad hands and busy feet as they spread mulch, hauled dirt, and made firewood.
Two full days of outdoor manual labor in sometimes less than ideal conditions can make for a trying experience, but the students from Cambridge campus were undeterred. They are inspired by the achievements of Will Steger and captivated by his vision of a cleaner, simpler world. There is also talk of how good that sauna will feel at the end of the day.
Over the years several of these service learning students have expressed their desire to return to the Steger Center, motivated now by passion rather than a grade. Some of those students end up joining the e-club, which makes regular visits to the Steger Center throughout the year, while others who show great promise end up being selected as interns for the summer residency program.
Whether it is for only a weekend, or several weekends, or an entire summer, the Steger Wilderness Center provides the students at Cambridge campus a unique opportunity to engage in authentic, hands on learning, for a life affirming cause they can feel passionate about. For many, they have finally found a place in the world worth fighting for, and when they return home they are not the same. This is education at its finest.
By Peter Wahlstrom