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.

IMG_0625The 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

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.

Raking in Preperation for Planting

Summer work at the Steger Wilderness Center began last weekend as interns slowly trickled onto the Homestead. There was a strange quiet for the first few days of work as we prepped for summer workers, guests and festivities., but the Homestead did not remain silent for long! On Wednesday evening fifteen lively students and three instructors arrived from Face to Face Academy located in St. Paul, MN ready to take on any task asked of them. “Face to Face Academy is a 9-12 grade Charter School for students who have experienced difficulties in a traditional high school settings, are looking for a fresh start, and desire a high school diploma.” A unique aspect of the school is their Wilderness Program, which is what brought these fifteen students to the Steger Wilderness Center to explore, work, and camp for three days this past week. This program wants students to discover and experience the opportunities nature has in store for them while developing leadership and teamwork abilities in a setting that they may have never been exposed to before.

After only a few minutes of being at the Center, the students learned that life in the city is completely different from life on the Homestead. Students ignored their phones, their appearance slowly became unimportant, and they quickly realized that fast and simple solutions were not an option. On the first morning of work, the students began with positive attitudes, curious about what their day had

Adding Dirt to the Garden

in store. Excitement was evident as the group split into three workstations in preparation for tree planting: loading buckets with dirt, unloading dirt, raking, and digging. The day was long, sunny and warm, but complaints from the students were rarely heard. They were dedicated to the projects they were working on, taking breaks when necessary and constantly asking questions and laughing with interns and their peers. By the end of the day everyone was exhausted, but the students still filled their evening with fishing, swimming, cooking over the fire, roasting s’mores, and telling stories.

The second day of work began faster than the first as students were feeling more comfortable in their tasks. With blisters on their fingers and sore muscles they finished the prep work for planting. The trees went in quickly as the students planted Oaks, Plums, and Maple saplings along the Roman Road. The Steger Wilderness Center provided them with a chance to become part of a greater plan. In twenty years or so, these same students will be able to return the Center and see their own trees cascading over the road bearing fruit for the picking.

The fifteen students from Face to Face Academy had the chance to experience a different environment at the Center than in the cities.

Base Camp for the Students

They recognized their weaknesses and gained new strengths in their abilities. From the first day to the last day, the students changed. Chana Ouray, Face to Face Academy’s Social Worker and a staff for the wilderness trip, said

“I love to see how in awe many of them are to be in the woods- to look up at the sky and see stars or see a lake that big. Their eyes are big, their faces light up, they run to grab their friends or pull the staff to say ‘Hey, look at this!’ Many of them are seeing this for the first time in the wilderness that they never find in the city.”

Around the campfire, the students made new relationships with their peers, and learned how to not only survive, but also thrive in the wilderness. By the end of their experience students were more than willing to share their thoughts about the homestead:

“To me, the Homestead means teamwork and hard effort. Compared to the cities, it is completely different; when you’re out here it is completely quiet- you get to think to yourself.”
–I’esha, 18, North Minneapolis

“Its all about getting closer to nature, and getting to know the people around without being near society and without technology. Nature has a more natural feel to it rather than interacting with people through digital means.”
– Jourdan, 20, St. Paul

The Planting of over 10 Trees

“You get to get out of the city and be in nature and see what nature looks like. In the city there is not much to see- just buildings and cars. Up here you get away from everything. It is good to be able to get that experience and fall in love with nature.”
– Cecilia, 20, St. Paul

These fifteen students came from an urban setting to the Steger Wilderness Center and became open to the natural world and an entirely different lifestyle from anything they have ever experienced.