Northland College

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Northland College is a private liberal arts college located in Ashland, Wisconsin. Founded in 1906, Northland College is an institution with a "distinctive environmental mission," offering a wide range of environmentally-based degrees. [1]

Mission Statement and Vision

According to the Northland College website, their mission statement is as follows:

"Northland College integrates liberal arts studies with an environmental emphasis, enabling those it serves to address the challenges of the future." [2]

Also included is a vision statement for the college:

"Northland College will be the nation’s preeminent liberal arts college focused on the environment, preparing students and other stakeholders to lead us toward a more sustainable, just, and prosperous future." [3]


Northland College, established in 1906, is an offshoot of the North Wisconsin Academy, which was established in 1892. Northland College was created with the intent to offer an option for higher education in Northern Wisconsin and to foster an educational environment based on the Christian values of the Congregational Church. The college still has ties within the Congregational Church, now known as United Church of Christ (UCC). [4] In 1971, Northland College began to take on a sustainability emphasis, deviated from the average 4-year liberal arts institution it was previously. Although it still offers a traditional liberal arts curriculum, many traditional classes such as English or History are intertwined with the idea of environmental sustainability and the relationship between humans and the environment in mind. [5]

Sigurd Olson

One of the most notable alumni of Northland College was environmentalist and author Sigurd F. Olson (April 4, 1899-January 23, 1982). Olson attended Northland College from 1916-1918, and went on to earn an undergraduate degree in agriculture from the University of Wisconsin, Madison from 1918-1920. [6]

Olson spent much of his youth in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, which fostered an intense relationship between Olson and nature. This, combined with his love of writing, resulted in his authorship of various pieces on nature and the importance of environmentalism. He believed that "'...there is a hard core of wilderness need in everyone, a core that makes its spiritual values a basic human necessity. There is no hiding it….Unless we can preserve places where the endless spiritual needs of man can be fulfilled and nourished, we will destroy our culture and ourselves.'" [7] In 1974, Olson was awarded the John Burroughs medal, the highest accolade in nature writing. [8]

In addition to his nature writing, Sigurd Olson was also a champion for the environmentalist movement, beginning with a proposition to ban airplanes from the wilderness canoe area in Ely, Minnesota from 1948-1949. Olson was successful and this win resulted in his gaining notoriety in many prominent environmental circles. [9]

Due to his commitment and contributions to environmentalism and the preservation and protection of natural lands, Northland College established the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute on August 27, 1971 at the first environmental conference held by the college. The institute officially opened in 1972, and continues to serve the Chequamegon Bay community.

Olson died on January 13, 1982 from a heart attack while snowshoeing.[10]

Focus on the Environment and Sustainability.

Campus Leadership Oppurtunities

REfund Grant Program

The REfund Grant Program is a student-led organization with the purpose of funding sustainable and renewable methods of energy on the Northland College Campus. These projects are chosen under the following criteria, as stated by the official Northland College website:

-Enhance one or more spheres of sustainability.

-Address one or more of the College’s mission elements: liberal arts studies, the environment, enabling others, and addressing challenges of the future.

-Contribute to energy education, reduction, renewability, and efficiency.

-Involve students.

-Create a continued and broad impact on campus. [11]

President's Climate Commitment

Northland College, as a member of the leadership circle of signatories of the American Colleges and Universities Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), has made a commitment to reach carbon neutrality by 2030. This will be done by researching potential methods of heating and cooling campus buildings using renewable energy, as well as a concentration of funds to implement the methods of renewable energy chosen by the college. [12]

Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation

The Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation is a program that focuses on the health, preservation, and research of fresh water resources. It has two facilities, one located on the Northland College Campus, and another at Forest Lodge on the Mississippi River. The center has three main objectives, as stated on the official Northland College website:

- To train future water stewards.

-To develop solutions to water resource problems.

-To catalyze conversations among regional, national, and international leaders on sustainable freshwater use.

In 2017, The Mary Griggs Burke Center collaborated with various Great Lakes fisheries scientists to look into how coastal wetlands help fisheries in the Great Lakes. Funding for the three-year project is provided by the US Geological Survey Great Lakes Science Center with collaborators from USGS, Central Michigan University, University of Minnesota Duluth, and SUNY College at Brockport, and plan on sampling from 36 coastal wetlands throughout the Great Lakes Basin. [13]

Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute

Available Degrees with an Environmental/Sustainability Focus

According to the official Northland College Website, these are the available degree programs with an environmental or sustainability focus:

Climate Science*

Ecological Restoration

Environmental Education*

Environmental Humanities*

Fisheries and Wildlife Ecology


Geographic Information Systems*

Humanity and Nature Studies


Natural Resources

Outdoor Education

Sustainable Community Development

Sustainable Entrepreneurship

Water Science

(* are only available as a minor or special program, the rest are available as an option for a major.) [14]


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