Snows of Kilimanjaro

Climbing a mountain for credit

U of M group on snowy Kilimanjaro
REC 4301 unfurled a University of Minnesota banner near the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro.

While leading students on a climb up Mt. Kenya a few years ago, Connie Magnuson looked through a clear sky to see the summit of the snow-capped Kilimanjaro in the distance.

“At that moment, I decided that the next climb would be Kilimanjaro,” says Magnuson, director of the Recreation Administration Program in the School of Kinesiology.

This winter, Magnuson and 14 students traded the snows of Minnesota for the snows of Kilimanjaro for a January-term class, REC 4301. Their 19,000-foot trek to the peak on the northeastern border of Tanzania was the first time Africa’s highest mountain has been climbed as a college course.

During the 17-day trip, students spent a week on the mountain and visited five national parks to learn about wildlife protection, conservation efforts, climate change impact, and cultural diversity. They visited Ngorongoro Crater, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Serengeti National Park.

Only 40 percent of those who attempt to reach Kilimanjaro’s summit each year make it to the top, says Magnuson. In the U of M group, 14 of 15 persevered to the peak, though some with varying levels of altitude sickness.

“The learning that occurs on so many levels on an intense, challenging trip like this is phenomenal,” says Magnuson. “Students from many backgrounds and majors came together to not only challenge themselves, but also to encourage others who were having difficulty.

“We became a very tight knit tribe and many life long friendships evolved from our shared experience,” she says. “I know my students on a whole other level that makes me truly appreciate who they are—their unique skills, talents, humor, ideas, and dreams. It’s definitely the best part of my job.”

Watch a slideshow about the class and learn more about the Recreation Administration Program.

Story by Ali Lacey | Photo courtesy of Connie Magnuson | Spring/Summer 2014; updated January 2017