St. Olaf CollegeLilly Program for Lives of Worth and ServiceSt. Olaf College

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About the Lilly Grant Program

Lilly Grant Program for Lives of Worth and Service
Bruce Dalgaard, Program Director
Old Main Annex 3
1520 St. Olaf Avenue
Northfield, MN 55057

507-646-3626 Fax

Nan Onkka

Spending a summer at Wilderness Canoe Base ensures time for spiritual renewal, building community, appreciating nature, and self-reflection. Set in a prime location, the camp is comprised of two small islands on the border of the Boundary Waters. Visitors, who are diverse in age, race, and nationality, come to WCB to retreat from the chaos of daily life. Life at WCB is relaxed and simple canoes are the favored mode of transportation, outhouses are the only choice you get, only a small fraction of buildings have running water and electricity, and cell phones are out of range.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to work with every visitor to come to camp. As the Camp Naturalist, my job was to heighten environmental awareness. My specialty was leading groups on nature hikes in order to introduce them to the boreal forest before they headed out on a canoe trip. In most cases each group consisted of seven youth, one adult advisor, and one WCB canoe guide.

It was amazing to see the dynamics of each group. With each orientation I had to rethink my teaching methods in order to be the most effective educator I could be. I soon learned that every group was different. Some were eager to learn about their natural surroundings, others were a challenge to teach. A few groups walked the nature path in an awe-struck silence, while others who were uncomfortable with the absence of city noises, felt it necessary to fill in the gaps. Without a doubt some of my favorite groups to lead into the boreal forest were those from Leipzig, Germany and inner city Minneapolis who had never been to a place of such untouched beauty.

Though often challenging, my job as an educator definitely had its rewards. It's incredible to see the sense of accomplishment and wonderment in a child's face when they handpick a blueberry from a wild bush for the first time and immediately get to pop it in their mouth. Or the awe of an inner city high school student who looks up at the night sky and instead of seeing a polluted haze, sees millions of crystal clear stars.

Although it was hard to watch each canoe group go out into the Boundary Waters without me, it was amazing to hear their stories when they came back. Often, kids manifested their excitement in the form of presents for my Nature Nest a moose jawbone, a curious bug, and, more than once, wolf poop. It was obvious that throughout the week they had built upon the knowledge base that I had given them and began to think independently about their relationship to the environment.

It is an incredible feeling to be able to pass on knowledge and passion to kids. Although I recall many moments of frustrations and challenges, they do not compare to the rewards of knowing that I encouraged independent thinking and heightened environmental awareness. Without a doubt, my summer working as an environmental educator reaffirmed my desire to serve others by pursuing a teaching career.