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College students take their semester to the river

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DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

Four 24-foot canoes sit off the dock at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque.  They're not just canoes, though.  They're classrooms.

It's part of a program put together by Joe Underhill, a professor at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minn.  A dozen students will spend the entire semester making their way down the length of the Mississippi River--most of it, by canoe.

Underhill says it's a way for his students to get the hands on experience they sometimes can't get by just sitting in a classroom.

"Instead of just reading about it, we're experiencing it first hand," he said.

Izzie Smith is spending some of her class time Tuesday cleaning up the shoreline just outside the Museum.

"We're cleaning up the river and getting college credit," she said.  "It actually doesn't get better."

She says the trip, just 29 days old, has been absolutely amazing.

"It's one of those things where you think you can imagine what's going to happen, and then everyday so much more happens and you weren't expecting it, but it's a good thing," she said.

Underhill says they try to connect to local experts and groups at each stop they make.  Tuesday, they're spending time with an AP Biology class from Fennimore High School in Wisconsin.

"Being able to work with them and getting knowledge from them of what they've seen already and what they're planning on doing is pretty great," said Carina Lopez, a junior at FHS.

The group will canoe their way down to St. Louis, then make the rest of the trip in a combination of van, bus, and canoe.  They'll spend Thanksgiving in New Orleans, then make their way to the Mississippi Delta, before heading back to Chicago, and finally, back to Minneapolis.

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