Two Alumnae Join Paddle Forward Program

News Paddle
In the fall of 2013, Sarah Schaefer ’11 and Sami Pfeffer ’10 set off in canoes to travel down the Mississippi River with nine other young adults as part of the Paddle Forward initiative. The 2,320-mile trip—set in motion by parent organization Wild River Academy, a Minnesota-based nonprofit dedicated to engaging communities in watershed education and outdoor recreation—took seventy days to complete. Traveling from the river’s headwaters in Lake Itasca, Minnesota, to New Orleans, Louisiana, the crew explored and documented the social and environmental history of the Mississippi.

Through blogs, videos, and discussion questions, students in thirty-five schools across the nation followed along with the paddlers as part of WRA’s adventure-learning model. Schaefer, who taught high school English for two years prior to joining the Paddle Forward team, developed the corresponding K-12 curriculum over the course of two months before embarking on the trip. When she realized there was a need for someone to film the experience and document the journey, she reached out to Pfeffer, who left her seasonal job as a Segway tour guide in Minneapolis early to join the project, saying she’d “always wanted to take a grand river adventure.”

Back on land, Pfeffer processed more than fifty hours of film for a documentary entitled Voices of the Mississippi River, which aims to inspire national conversations about community resource use and communicate the sadness, injustice, and beauty found on the Mississippi. A production date has been set for June.

“We used to make home videos at Mount Holyoke together,” says Schaefer, “so this was a fun and surprising way to come full circle. It felt meant to be.”

—By Lauren Kodiak

This article appeared in the spring 2014 issue of the Alumnae Quarterly.

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