Paddling Forward: One student’s journey

EmilyFor Emily Lipson, a Recreation, Park, and Leisure Studies major in the School of Kinesiology, her Fall 2015 semester included her internship, an exciting opportunity  to  gain hands-on experience in her field of study. Lipson got to experience this by canoeing 320 miles down the Minnesota River, connecting with river communities along the way, and engaging K-12 students and classrooms in watershed education.

Lipson is a 2015 graduate of the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities, and spent last fall interning with Wild River Academy, a non-profit organization dedicated to engaging communities in watershed education through outdoor recreation. Lipson interned as a paddler in the Paddle Forward expedition program.

The Paddle Forward expedition program is built on six themes: agriculture, geology, river communities, Native American significance, water quality and watersheds. The responsibilities of individuals in the program are to engage K-12 students and classrooms in watershed education through online interfaces in order to promote adventure learning.

“This year we used a story map to tell students where we were and what we were doing. They could follow links to photos, videos and other resources that we have available on our website and social media pages,” Lipson said.

CaptureThe first six weeks of Lipson’s internship were spent paddling alongside her six teammates. They began at the headwaters in Ortonville, MN, and ended the voyage at the confluence of the Minnesota River with the Mississippi River in St. Paul. During this time, the team spent their days paddling, working on their interactive programs, enjoying the beautiful fall weather, and setting up camp for the night.

Lipson said that her favorite aspects of the internship were camping and paddling. She explained, “We really got to know the river and learn about water in an intimate way. I think the camping and being on the river every single day was the most influential and life-changing part of this educational experience.”

She spent the remainder of the semester working on the interactive story map, updating it with photos and videos for the classrooms and students who were following along with the Paddle Forward journey.

From this unique opportunity, Lipson had many takeaways. “This was a very transforming experience. I love to camp, and place-based education is how I learn best so this was the perfect experience for my internship. My biggest take away was the idea of urban nature. This is a beautiful river and often gets overlooked for purposes of recreation because it’s so dirty, and yes it’s dirty, but it’s also beautiful. I would love to see more people recreating on the river because the DNR would respond to that with more campsites, clean drinking water on the river, and better boat landings, and things like that will help clean up the river. Also as a Recreation professional, getting people outside and engaging with their local waterways, forests, parks, and neighbors is so important and I am excited to take these lessons with me in my career,” said Lipson.

For more information on Wild River Academy and the Paddle Forward program, visit

To see more photos from Lipson’s internship, click here.

Paddle Forward


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