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.”
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.