Plans to launch a new floating classroom at the University of Wisconsin-Superior received a boost with a recent $100,000 challenge gift from UWS alumni Bill and Lynne Rogers.

In November 2019, the UW-Superior Foundation and the Lake Superior Research Institute (LSRI) announced a new Superior Floating Classroom initiative to re-establish hands-on learning and research aboard a Lake Superior vessel.

The organizations haven't had a floating classroom since 2012, when the program aboard the L.L. Smith Jr. research vessel ended after more than 30 years. The 60-ton vessel was originally used for fisheries research and the mission later expanded to include public education. Over the course of its stay with UWS, the 58-foot vessel welcomed thousands of people, from college students and school groups to public officials.

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The Rogers' gift will be used to match contributions up to $100,000, bringing the project closer to the purchase of a vessel and its educational and conservation mission on the waters of Lake Superior.

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The Rogers said their support is an outgrowth of their love for Lake Superior and the significant role it has played in their lives. For years, Bill Rogers owned and operated a chandlery business in Superior, providing supplies and equipment for ships arriving and departing from the Superior-Duluth harbor.

“The research and education that LSRI does is so important,” he said. “In the 1970s, I worked as a deckhand aboard iron ore ships, and in those days, everything was dumped overboard, even paint and chemicals. I never forgot that, so Lynne and I are passionate about the ballast water research and other conservation and education efforts being done by LSRI and UW-Superior.”

LSRI is in a two-year planning phase for the Superior Floating Classroom which has included convening a boat acquisition advisory committee with members of the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration and regional experts.

LSRI assistant director Amy Eliot said the university was grateful for the Rogers' support, which will accelerate the timeline for the project. The university will use the gift to cover the cost of a proof of concept design and cost estimate for the vessel, which will in turn be used to raise funds for the full construction plans needed to acquire or refurbish a boat.

“We would not have the funding to take this step if they hadn’t set up this match fund,” Eliot said.

While raising funds to build the boat, the group will be working on hiring an educational coordinator to start developing the program platform.

“We’ve just completed year one of a five-year plan, and we hope to have the Lake Superior floating classroom set sail in 2022,” Eliot said.

The new floating classroom will be state-of-the-art and will allow for more passengers on board, as well as a formal platform to make the boat available to educators or researchers from around the world.

“Just about any research or program could be conducted on a vessel like this,” from alternative energy for boat propulsion to the lake’s cultural resources, Eliot said.

The institute’s mission is to conduct environmental research and provide services that directly benefit the people, industries and natural resources of the region. It also works to provide non-traditional learning and applied research experience for undergraduate students and foster environmental education and outreach in the Twin Ports area.

People interested in supporting the project and having their contribution matched dollar-for-dollar by the Rogers’ challenge gift may contribute at uwsuper.edu/together or by calling the UW-Superior Foundation at 715-394-8452.