2013-02-06 / Schools

River University Gives New Meaning to ‘Academic Immersion’


Students problem solving at last summer’s River University. 
Photo Provided Students problem solving at last summer’s River University. Photo Provided Clarkson University, in upstate Potsdam, prides itself on its technological education, and was recently recognized by U.S. News & World Report as the number 12 online graduate business program in the nation.

But Clarkson offers something else, as well—a unique, hands-on, intensive summer program that incorporates engineering, environmental, and policy studies into one scenic package: River University.

The three-week, sixcredit (3 credits in Life of an American River: Ecology, Policy and Place, and 3 credits in Our Water Future: Sustainable Water Resource Management) program is “a combination of university, Outward Bound, and summer camp,” says one of the university’s three professors, John Cronin. His two colleagues are Shane Rogers, PhD, and Tom Langen, PhD. It runs from June 10 through June 28.

Cronin, a Cold Spring resident and founder of the 12-year-old Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries, met with the PCN&R to explain more about the program, and why college students should want to take advantage of it.

Cronin’s enthusiasm for the program is palpable. “The whole river is our classroom,” he begins. He speaks with authority and energy about the multidisciplinary nature of the studies that take place, offering opportunities to be in, on, and about the river on a daily basis. Projects—to name just a few—include hand-pulling invasive water chestnuts out of the riverbed, taking a 3-day sail on the sloop Clearwater, field trips to areas such as the massive PCB dredging site upriver, and a mock trial in which students argue environmentally sensitive cases.

This type of program, Cronin asserts, is what most schools and colleges in the US are aspiring to be these days—a multidisciplinary experience that employs both individual and team teaching, hands-on and classroom experience, both indoors and outdoors, and access to real-life problems that students attempt to dissect, and even solve.

Last summer’s River University class included students from nine different schools, and a variety of economic backgrounds, who “forged lasting lifetime relationships,” Cronin said.

This year’s class is designed to be between 15 and 20 students, so that studentteacher interaction is not only possible, but virtually constant, he noted.

The program offers “lots of food” throughout the day, and can be accessed as a commuter from nearby locales, as well as from farther afield, with home-stay or other lodging opportunities that the university will assist students in finding. The 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.-ish day can run much longer, Cronin said, on days when field trips or other time-intensive programs occur. Students should plan for a 40- to 50- hour school week, with some evening work.

As for grading, the professors use a combination of papers and essays, group participation and teamwork, blog entries, and hands-on evaluations.

For those students who have experienced, shall we say, less-than-enthusiastic college professors, that won’t be a concern at River U. When we asked Cronin if he liked teaching this course, his immediate answer was yes. “There’s a lot of tears on the last day,” he added.

For some students the program can be a “kickstart” to a whole new line of study; for others it’s a complement to their ongoing studies; and for some it’s a way to pick up a few needed credits. Those with an interest in environmental studies, pre-law, science, engineering, policy or politics are just some of the potential candidates.

Enrollment has already begun and the application deadline is March 15, 2013. For information on tuition and other aspects of the program, visit www.riveruniversity.com.

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