This article has been reposted from Dunwoody College News.

New class of Architecture students help bring previous design proposals to life

A new group of Architecture students visited the Steger Wilderness Center in August 2017 to prepare for their semester project

A new group of Architecture students visited the Steger Wilderness Center in August 2017 to prepare for their semester project

In August of 2016, third-year Architecture students were challenged with one of the program’s largest and most innovative projects yet: to design a brand new dining hall for the Steger Wilderness Center.

The venture inspired the program’s first studio course, Dining Wild, led by Architecture Senior Instructor Molly Reichert and wilderness adventurer and Center founder Will Steger.

Dining Wild

Throughout the studio, students spent their semester touring the site, working with local businesses in the culinary industry, and creating design proposals. And in December of 2016, students pitched three different design ideas to Steger.

But, the project didn’t end there. Instead, those three designs were saved for the next class of Architecture students, who were charged with turning their predecessors’ proposals into one final building design.

Same project, new students

“The second semester of Dining Wild was very interesting in that we were not starting from scratch,” Reichert said. “Typically architecture studios start with a clean slate and students can let their ideas run wild over the course of the semester. This semester required a much more rigorous and focused approach to move the design forward and respond to the client’s needs.”

With help from Steger, the new group of students spent their fall semester combining and refining last year’s schematic designs.

Students meet with Will Steger to flesh out building plans

Students meet with Will Steger to flesh out building plans

“It was good to have a starting point,” Architecture Student Jacob Larson said. “And working with Will is really interesting.

“You know what he likes and you can incorporate that into the design,” he said. “Working with your client is really helpful because you get that clear feedback.”

The process

To ensure their final design would remain environmentally friendly as well as respond to the chilly site conditions of northern Minnesota, students spent several days visiting and exploring the build site. They also received helpful information and building tips from industry professionals.

Last semester, Marvin Windows and the Structural Insulated Panel Association (SIPA) presented on sustainable methods of building and how windows and Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS) can contribute to a more efficient construction schedule.

Architecture students learn from a SIPA representative in class lecture

Architecture students learn from a SIPA representative in class lecture

Mechanical Engineer Craig Tarr—who specializes in alternative energy—also shared what mechanical systems and appliances were most efficient and ecologically sound.

Students even enlisted help from Dunwoody’s Surveying & Civil Engineering Technology program. Last spring, Surveying students surveyed the Center grounds to provide the Architecture students with necessary site information to help move the project forward.

The result

Using this information, students worked in separate groups, each tackling different pieces of the final building documents. Groups included a Drawing and Renderings team, a Material and Product Specifications team, and a Physical Model team.

Students then combined their findings and suggestions into one ideal construction plan. This plan was then proposed to—and immediately approved by—Steger and his team late last month.

Students present final proposal to Steger and his team

Students present final proposal to Steger and his team

The Center is expected to break ground later this year.

“It was fun working on a project that is actually going to be built,” Larson said. “It’s an experience I won’t forget!”

Read more about the students’ semester experience by visiting their class news blog.

See the final design proposal.

Untitled designE-club was back at the Steger Wilderness Center, although not in an official capacity, which is a good indication of its dedication to this particular environmental cause. Members of the Environmental Club at the Cambridge campus of Anoka Ramsey Community College rearranged work schedules and set aside a long weekend during their summer break to come up and work at the Steger Center. Joining them were equally dedicated faculty members, Melanie Waite-Altrip and Andy Aspaas, who pitched in while exploring partnership opportunities with the Steger Wilderness Center.

Untitled design-5It was two days of wood and stone for this crew. On Friday they set about completing the firewood mission begun in late April when the e-club was here last to harvest wood from the forest. The next phase was given over to splitting and stacking all that wood in order to supply the entire Homestead through the winter. By Friday’s end storage sheds were bursting with wood and the odor of it being freshly split.

Saturday came with rain, but the e-clubbers were undeterred. Stone recently quarried from a fractured ridge in the forest had to be hauled out rain or shine. From past experience they knew the best method for removal lay in the process of assembly, so they spread Untitled design-4out between rock pile within and the road at the edge of the forest. Buckets with handles were added and through a bucket brigade that defied the rain and the rugged terrain, another deposit of Ely green stone was made into the stone mason’s bank account.

At the end of each work day interns, apprentices, and e-clubbers, representing three different organizations but sharing a common cause, converged first on the lodge and then Hobo Village for some eat and greet time, just as countless dedicated folks have done Untitled design copy 2before them, since the day that Will first arrived nearly 50 years ago. They all came together as one caring community, but if the past is any indication, this was not merely a gathering of good-hearted and hungry individuals who sacrifice their free time for a good cause, this was a fellowship of future leaders.

By Peter Wahlstrom

YEA!MN Base CampDust filled the air of the driveway at the Steger Wilderness Center as the three vans from YEA! MN drove home from their weekend retreat. Fifteen students had arrived Friday evening ready to disconnect from the city life and connect with their fellow group members to review their year of work and discuss their next plans of action. Youth Environmental Activists Minnesota (YEA! MN), a high school environmental leadership program of the nonprofit Will Steger established in 2006, Climate Generation, works with high school environmental clubs around the Twin Cities Metro to encourage environmental leadership and sustainability on campus and beyond.

YEA!MN HikeWill Steger is one man with three active legacies, and Climate Generation, founded in 2006, is one of them. It aims to educate and empower people to engage in climate change solutions. Climate Generation achieves this through programs like YEA! MN, an annual Summer Institute for educators where participants learn about the newest discoveries regarding climate change and climate change education, and by encouraging youth to become involved in public policies pertaining to climate and clean energy.

YEA!MN on a Tour with WillClimate Generation is a result of Steger’s first and most prominent legacy, his world-renowned expeditions where he witnessed the ravaging effects of global warming on the polar regions. In 1986, he led the first confirmed journey without re-supply to the North Pole by dogsled. In 1988, he led the longest unsupported dogsled expedition across Greenland, a 1,600-mile trip. Finally, in 1989-90, he led the International Trans-Antarctic Expedition, a 3,741-mile long dogsled journey across the widest expanse of Antarctica. These expeditions, Will’s crowning achievements, comprise his lasting legacy that made the others possible.

Camp by Fire LightSteger’s third and newest legacy is the Steger Wilderness Center, which is built to be an example of ecological stewardship, as well a location for leaders of all ages to gather, work, create, and live together. Located in the Northwoods near Ely, MN, the Steger Center is a place where the distractions of urban life are muted in order to shape a community of leaders cultivating innovative thought and action.

YEA!MN Clearing BrushAlthough Will Steger’s three legacies are separate entities, they remain interconnected in the way that each one allows the others to thrive. While members of YEA! MN were at the Steger Wilderness Center, in addition to their conference, they camped, cooked their own meals over the fire, swam, canoed, helped clear brush, and interacted with the Steger Center community. When asked about his experience at the Steger Center, Kumar, 18, from Minneapolis a member of YEA! MN said “this place is one of the coolest spaces I have ever been in my life.” Rebecca, 18 from Minneapolis, added: “The buildings work so well with the environment, everything is so cohesive.” In the end, the weekend at the Steger Wilderness Center for YEA! MN was not only a wilderness retreat, it also served as a bridge for two non-profits hatched by Will Steger to work together and benefit from each other’s experiences.

Apprentices Franz and Ben Cutting Rebar for the Foundation of the New Facilities Project

Franz and Ben Cutting Rebar for the Foundation of the New Facilities Project

In summers past, the Master Stone Mason Apprentice Program has been an integral part of the community life and hands-on education at the Steger Center. Master Masons dedicate four weeks out of their summer to teaching their trade to the a small group of qualified Apprentices. By the end of the program the Apprentices develop the skills and confidence necessary to be proficient in the fundamentals of stone work, technique, and construction. Working along side of the Apprentices are the summer Interns. Working, eating and camping together every day ensures a tight-knit community of Apprentices and Interns who motivate, learn from and teach one another.

Apprentice Josh Working on  the Wall

Apprentice Josh Working on the Wall

Apprentices Ben and John

Apprentices Ben and John

The Apprentice program has evolved over the last several years. This summer the Steger Wilderness Center has made a new partnership with Central Minnesota Jobs and Training Services (CMJTS) to advance the Apprentice program. CMJTS is a nonprofit aiming to “match job seekers, youth, businesses, and those seeking training with resources available to them.” New partnerships such as this allow the program to develop greater opportunities and resources for a more diverse range of individuals.

Apprentice Home Base

Apprentice Home Base

Ryan Redfield, a Youth Employment Specialistfor CMJTS, recruited four young adults to come to the Steger Center for the month go June and join the Apprentice Program. These four participants will be completing a 160 hour paid internship, for which they earn a college credit through Anoka-Ramsey Community College. Prior to arriving at the Steger Wilderness Center they earned a forklift certification from Anoka Technical College. The Apprentices are paid for their labor and provided with a food stipend for the month. By partnering with CMJTS, the Steger Wilderness Center is able to provide beneficial opportunities to four Apprentices who each day are becoming more competent in the trade of stone masonry. When the Apprentices leave at the end of June, they will be job ready, taking their first steps on a new career path in a skill that has been passed down to them from former generations.

JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune

Star TribuneELY, Minn. – Go east out of Ely, past the gas station and the Wolf Center, leaving any semblance of civilization behind. Dirt roads narrow and giant potholes rattle your chassis for miles. You turn down the long driveway, past a gate and a sign that warns to watch for dog sleds.

The forest opens to gardens, an enclave of small wooden buildings and a makeshift “lodge,” old furniture scattered on the porch. Then you see it, atop a tall hill, like some glass and wood Rubik’s Cube crowned with turrets and circled by ornate walkways. Miles from the nearest neighbor, it looks wildly incongruous and completely organic.

This is the last dream of polar explorer Will Steger, a quiet, 25-year project to create a magical retreat for the world’s best thinkers. Someday, he hopes, those people will come here to solve problems grand and small. Secluded far from distractions and surrounded by some of the most stunning wilderness in the world, experts in agriculture, education, poverty or anything else will be able to gather and come up with solutions to society’s most vexing issues.

But first, Steger has to finish his quixotic quest. He needs money, attention and help.

That’s where Jess Hill and Jermaine Rundles, recent graduates of Summit Academy OIC, come in. Summit, in north Minneapolis, teaches skills in health care and building trades to unemployed or underemployed people in poor neighborhoods to help them find good jobs that get them off public assistance.

Hill and Rundles were part of one of the teams this summer that traveled to Steger’s compound and helped him construct one of the dozen cabins on the 240-acre homestead. The work let them hone their carpentry skills while helping Steger build the dream. It also exposed many of them to the wilderness for the first time.

When Hill, 23, first saw the castle-like building, she searched for words to describe it. “It was kind of ridiculous, but beautiful,” she said.

“Oh, it was gorgeous,” added Rundles. “After driving over 200 potholes, I looked up and it was just crazy. It was epic.”

Hill, who had camped in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness before, was wowed with Steger’s land and retreat center. She said the team worked eight- to 10-hour days, “depending on how exhausted we were,” then sat around a campfire and learned about one another, and about Steger and his world adventures.

They started from scratch and framed a 16-by-16-foot cabin, put in the walls and floors and added the roof. Another group will go up this month and finish the cabin.

“It’s one thing to build a wall in a classroom, it’s another to build an entire cabin in the outdoors and have to level it,” Hill said. “I had never done a roof before.”

During a tour of his grounds, Steger said he had been on boards for nonprofits with Summit’s president, Louis King. They had worked on various projects to help make people in impoverished communities employable.

They decided that working on his cabins would give students a chance to build and finish a project on a small scale, doing everything from the blueprints back in Minneapolis to the finishing touches of the tiny but efficient homes, where visitors will live while at the retreat.

“It’s important for them to get a finished product so they can see exactly what they’ve accomplished,” said Steger, who slept in tents with participants even though he has a small cabin on the ridge overlooking his lake.

But the program isn’t just about job skills. Steger said he learns about participants’ lives back in the cities and the hurdles they’ve overcome to get here.

“One of the guys talked about how he had been homeless,” Steger said. “A lot of them have never been in nature like this.

“I think their wilderness experience was just incredible,” Steger added. When they arrive, “they just take it all in, the scenery, the magic of the wilderness. For some of them, it was hard to leave. They said they were sad to leave.”

Thus far, Steger has footed the bills for the Steger Wilderness Center ( himself, and built much of it, along with a 10-member crew. But he’s been spending time in the Twin Cities lately trying to drum up more support to complete the project, which consists of the four-story retreat center and a dozen cabins. All of them are in various stages of construction, but nothing is yet completed.

As dreams go, it’s pretty lofty. But so are his plans for programming.

“Generally in leadership circles, people live in silos and it’s hard to communicate,” said Steger. “My goal is to take groups of leaders into that magic of a wilderness setting and put them to work. It’s not going to be the kind of retreat where you come up here to feel good about yourself.”

“If I can pull this off,” Steger said, “I could have the biggest impact of my life.”

He’s already had an impact on Rundles, 29, who worked in a warehouse before getting his scholarship at Summit.

“I feel pretty lucky to be able to see it,” Rundles said. “It was frustrating at times, but at the end of the day, seeing I actually built that, it was crazy.”

After work, he hiked 2 miles through the woods to a nearby lake and caught a mess of fish. They didn’t have time to clean them, so he put his stringer into Steger’s private lake to keep them alive.

“Aw, man, a turtle ate all 30 of them,” he said. The next time, he was more careful.

Since working for Steger, both Hill and Rundles landed jobs with Mortenson Construction, and are working on the Vikings stadium.

“The outcome is fabulous,” said Rundles. “Everything I asked for has come true. It’s something I can show people. I put my sweat, and a little blood, into that.” • 612-673-1702

Twitter: @jontevlin


Last week the Homestead had an extra reason to celebrate besides Independence Day. After weeks of painstaking work in the woodshop, interns finished installing the new third and fifth deck railings, bringing the space to life by framing the surrounding landscape between delicate curves of richly oil redwood.

Last week the Homestead had an extra reason to celebrate besides Independence Day. After weeks of painstaking work in the woodshop, interns finished installing the new third and fifth deck railings, bringing the space to life by framing the surrounding landscape between delicate curves of richly oil redwood.

The process started with the removal of the original railings, which were carefully taken out, so that they could be reused. Nails were removed before the pieces were cut down using a table saw, and then glued together and sanded down to make new boards just over three inches wide and half an inch thick. These boards were cut roughly to shape with a jigsaw, and then perfected using a router. All edges were carefully rounded over. At last the finished pieces were oiled and neatly stacked to dry. This process was repeated every day, for about two weeks, until over eight hundred new railing pieces were ready to be fitted into place.

When working on such a detailed, repetitive project day after day, itís often easy to lose track of the bigger picture. Itís a true test of patience to focus intently on performing one simple task well, over and over, instead of wanting to continuously move from step to step. ìI now understand the importance of craftsmanship,î says intern Chelsea, ìbecause the steps for building the railings were cumulative, and you could watch the details develop in the process.

Meanwhile, up on the deck, the frames from the old railings were cleaned and freshly oiled in preparation for the new railings. With all of the woodwork done, and a temporary shop set up in the third floor gazebo, the new pieces were quickly fitted in. The transformation of the deck was completed within a week of setting in the first new railing.


MinnPostWilliam Moreland experienced a lot of firsts as he wrapped up his studies at Summit Academy OIC, a community-based vocational training and job placement program in North Minneapolis.

MinnPost: Summit Academy students, Will Steger break ground on cabin-building initiative in BWCAAlong with learning about construction math, building materials and power tools, the 36-year-old Texas-native became one of the first academy graduates to build a cabin adjacent to the Boundary Waters for renowned polar explorer Will Steger. Moreland and his classmates started building the cabin in late June at the Steger Wilderness Center in Ely, Minn.

“I got really inspired being able to go meet someone like Will Steger,” Moreland said, who visited the Boundary Waters for the first time. “I look at it as development and personal empowerment. It’s just a real exciting opportunity that I’ll be able to talk about for years.”

The project is part of a new partnership between the Steger Wilderness Center and Summit Academy. This summer, students will get real-life construction experience using recycled materials, while replacing a cabin at the center that burned down three years ago.

Steger and Louis King II, the founder of Summit Academy, hatched the idea about eight years ago while teaming up for H.I.R.E. Minnesota, a program aimed at ensuring that public investments in infrastructure and renewable energy help transition people from poverty and reduce racial disparities. For the cabin project, Steger provided a week of room-and-board and building materials, while the students gave their carpentry expertise and labor.

“Building little cabins in the wilderness is just a great experience,” Steger said. “People want a job, they don’t want to live in poverty. They want to work. What it’s really about for myself is I have a real commitment to the inner city. It’s about getting opportunities here.”

Moreland, who lives in Minneapolis, used to drill oil rigs. When he became dissatisfied with his job, he started looking for new career opportunities. That’s when his brother told him about the Pre-Apprentice Carpentry Program at Summit Academy.

The two-phase program provides students with job readiness skills in the construction trade through classroom and hands-on training. The first 10 weeks covers general industry training, while the second 10 weeks provides hands-on training.

MinnPost: Summit Academy students, Will Steger break ground on cabin-building initiative in BWCAThe program costs $5,400, but tuition is generally paid for through a combination of federal financial aid, donations and foundation grants, according to Steve Shedivy, director of marketing at Summit Academy. Students don’t have out-of-pocket costs or loans to pay back.

Typically, students using the program are low-income adults who are unemployed or under-employed, Shedivy said. They must have a minimum of a high school degree or GED and pass an entrance exam. Students are selected based on interviews and academic performance.

The selection process can be stringent, Shedivy added.

Upon graduation, students receive an undergraduate certificate and have the skills to work at union shops as pre-apprentices, said Jim Jordan, operations supervisor in the carpentry department at Summit Academy. Jordan is leading the cabin project.

Moreland and five other students built the cabin’s 16-by-16-foot structure during the weeklong trip, starting June 15. A second group of students will return in early July to complete the interior and exterior. The cabin will house up to two visitors at the center, Steger said.

Jess Hill, 23, of Mounds View, also joined Moreland for the first cabin-building trip. Hill grew up camping in the Boundary Waters. She also took on minor building projects as a girl, making plant box and shingles with her family. Hill said she jumped on the chance to work with Steger — whom she admires for his dog-sledding expeditions across Antarctica.

“I was right on top of it,” Hill said. “When I heard that we were building a cabin for someone as big as Will Steger, I wanted to go.”

After graduating from Summit Academy, Hill hopes to find a job with a union contractor, learn as much as she can from others, and eventually become a foreman.

Moreland wants to find a job in union carpentry, too.

“I want to gain work experience,” he said. “I want to build a reputation and move forward in this career. I really want to make it work for me. I’m just going to own it, do it, and teach others.”

Summit had a 71 percent job placement rate for students who completed the pre-apprentice program between 2012 and 2013, according to the program’s website.

Steger said he plans to have more building projects for Summit Academy students in the future.

“It’s a really neat experience,” he said. “The friendships you build here are really important. I think some of these people will probably stay in touch too.”


The Homestead was a bustling place last week, with a small city of tents pitched near the lake, the repeated squeak and groan of the lodge door as people filtered in and out, and five students plus one instructor from Summit Academy started work from the ground up on a new cabin.

Summit Academy A Community of Us3Summit Academy, a North Minneapolis-based program, focuses on providing its students with practical training, so that participants are prepared to enter the workforce in fields such as construction or healthcare. The students who worked on “Happier Acres” were on the last stretch of a twenty week program. After spending the first part of their training learning different elements of the business, they finally put together all the various skills they’d learned into the construction of the cabin, making it the first official project the students have completed from start to finish. The sense of pride and accomplishment felt by those in the class was clear on their faces as after-dinner conversation would turn to the day’s progress. Willy-Bob, one of the academy students, described the feeling of building the cabin as wholesome, going onto say that it has given him a lot of confidence. He was proud that the newly constructed cabin would long stand as a representation of the school. He plans to continue to use his newfound construction skills not just in the field, but in his everyday life as well, and hopes to someday go to school for design drafting.

Summit’s time at the Homestead was also more than just an opportunity for its students to gain practical experience. By mid-week, the students of Summit felt like permanent members of the Homestead, having quickly settled into the routine of the days. “You’re really living without technology here!” proclaimed one student. All meals were prepared and eaten together. Everyone partook in evening saunas and swimming. Several of the Summit crew went fishing one evening, and then treated the group to a tasty meal of fish, spicy tomato salsa, and fried rice. By Friday, there was no more distinction between ‘the Summit crew’ and ‘the interns.’ That night everyone gathered around a roaring bonfire to celebrate the success of the week and reflect on how much the experience had meant. One student, Joe, mentioned how, on arrival, he had not expected the interns living on the Homestead to be such a tight-knit group. “And now,” he said, “it’s like our group joined yours. It’s a community. A community of us.”

Everyone was sad that the week had to end. Saturday morning the van was packed, and goodbyes were said. On what had once been bare ground less than a week ago now stands a completed cabin shell, ready for finishing. The cabin is a testament to more than just the technical skill of the students of Summit Academy, for it also reflects what a dedicated group of people can accomplish when they come together to focus their talents towards a goal.

Photo: The Crew From Summit: (left to right) Homestead resident Mike, Joe, Boonka, Jess, Summit instructor Beth, Jermaine, Will, Willy-Bob

Last summer interns worked to put in a new railing along the east-facing deck of the center, and progress will resume on the project this coming week. A row of currant bushes that grows up against the glass and granite of the building is neatly contained by the redwood railings interns put into place.

When fitted together, the shape of each railing piece produces an intricate cutout pattern, allowing for a patchwork of lush greens and stone to show through against the rich grain of the wood. This “edible hedge” was designed to contain the currant bushes and create a smooth transition between the different elements of wood, glass, and stone.

An Upcoming ProjectIn the coming week, in addition to finishing the remaining sections on the ground floor, new railings will be installed on the third floor gazebo level. In this way, the finished deck will showcase an interplay of contrasting light and dark tones – a theme which reoccurs in subtle variations throughout the building – and the changing angle of the sun will cast a fluctuating array of shadows on the deck floor. The railing also provides an opportunity to showcase the craftsmanship of those working in the Homestead’s woodshop, as well as provide a use for scrap material. Each piece of redwood is cut from a larger piece of leftover material, before being shaped on a router, sanded, stained, and fit into place. Those scraps which are too narrow to be used initially are meticulously glued together to make pieces wide enough to be used. It is estimated that it will take over eight hundred pieces to complete all the railings on the building.