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Stu­dents learn a variety of skills in the wilderness sur­vival classroom at Hayden Park. | Maggie Hroncich

Imagine you are driving home for break — the stress of finals behind you —  when you get stranded on the side of the road during a snow­storm. This isn’t just any street, but a barren road in the Upper Peninsula. According to Joe Kellam, asso­ciate director of security and emer­gency man­agement, this very sit­u­ation hap­pened to one of his former stu­dents. 

“She used the skills she learned here to build a fire, set up shelter, and signal for help,” Kellam said. 

Kellam offers a two-credit wilderness sur­vival class each semester, and he said this wasn’t the only save as a result of the class. 

“There was one student who was hunting out west, became sep­a­rated and lost in a storm and was able to stop, figure out where he was, rebuild a shelter, set up a fire, and set up camp overnight.” said Kellam. “Then the next morning he got out and made it back to camp.”

These are skills you won’t find in the core cur­riculum or most standard course schedules, but they are the focus of the wilderness sur­vival class. Here are four tips stu­dents say they gained from taking it: 

1.Building a fire 

The final for the class is unlike most finals taken in a classroom setting — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t equally stressful. Stu­dents are expected to build a fire, boil 20 ounces of water, and set up shelter with a tarp.

Senior biology major Julianna Batting took the class last fall, and said the skills she learned from it have stuck with her.

“The fire method that he teaches you is so good,” she said. “You could have soaking wet logs and still make a fire in the pouring rain.” 

While it might be easy to build a fire with fire starter packs from the grocery store, Kellam said he aims to push his stu­dents beyond that point. 

“ I give them a task and push their comfort level. They have to build a fire in the wind and the cold, instead of in their backyard where it’s nice and warm,” said Kellam. “Everytime we push that threshold, they become more con­fident.” 

2. Nav­i­gation

In event of an emer­gency, after building a fire and shelter, the next logical step would be nav­i­gating back to a des­ti­nation. Senior Car­oline Lively, who is cur­rently in the class, said the nav­i­gation unit has been one of her favorite parts of the course.

“Kellam taught us how to use a compass properly,” Lively said. “He gave us 100 meters and we learned how many paces are in that dis­tance. Then we walked in a tri­angle using direc­tions from a compass with brown paper bags over our eyes so we didn’t acci­dently cheat.”

3. Urban Sur­vival 

Although the class may emphasize skills needed in the wilderness, it extends to being pre­pared  in urban set­tings.

“There’s a whole unit on urban sur­vival — which is common sense stuff about what to look for and how to be an observant human being,” Batting said. “Essen­tially, it’s how to be a smart person.”

4. “Knowledge is light to carry”

A central theme of the class is Kellam’s mantra. He asks his stu­dents what is essential, but light, to carry. The answer is simple: knowledge.

“The most important thing I learned is that you don’t always have to have all of the gear and sup­plies to survive,” said Batting. “If you know what to do with what you do have, you’ll be fine.” 

With these four take-aways in mind, stu­dents are pre­pared to graduate feeling secure in their ability to survive.