St. Cloud State University football player John Solberg has taken full advantage of his summer vacation in 2019 by helping to serve as a chaperone on a unique study abroad trip to South Africa for high school students from his hometown of Cambridge, Minn.
A senior wide receiver for the Huskies, Solberg was part of a group of 18 students and staff who participated with the Operation Wallacea venture to South Africa on June 15-28. Operation Wallacea is a conservation research organization that is funded by, and relies on, teams of student volunteers who join expeditions for the opportunity to work on real-world research programs alongside academic researchers.
The group spent the first week of their South Africa experience at the Dinokeng Game Reserve and followed with a second week at Sodwana Bay for marine research and activities.
Solberg’s connection to the group was through Cambridge-Isanti High School biology teacher Tricia Hennen, who was his teacher in high school. She is also the wife of Solberg’s high school coach at Cambridge-Isanti H.S. Mike Hennen (who now serves as the activities director at Forest Lake High School).
Tricia Hennen leads groups of students from Cambridge-Isanti on study trips every other year, which is something that Solberg wanted to do in high school but was unable to since he was usually involved with sports at the time. This year’s trip provided Solberg with a chance to join Hennen’s group as a chaperone.
In a typical summer since arriving at SCSU, Solberg would have been on campus some for workouts with his teammates. In an effort to stay on track with his off-season workouts, Solberg and SCSU assistant coach Mark Sipple put together a program that he could follow during the trip with a variety of plyometrics exercises.
A biomedical science major at SCSU, Solberg would like to pursue a career as a biology teacher, and this trip provided an outstanding opportunity for him to gain valuable hands-on experience working with students.
“We spent the first week in the savannah at the Dinokeng Game Reserve, and the students were able to contribute to the research being done there,” Solberg said. “They were able to experience things that you would learn at the college level, so it was a really good program.”
At the game reserve, the group had a chance to see a variety of South African animals in the wild – including giraffes, elephants, hippos and zebras. The only fences at the reserve were set around the camp to provide safety for the campers.
“The second week, we had a chance to dive on the pristine coral reefs at Sodowana Bay, and that was an incredible experience,” Solberg said.
The trip to South Africa definitely solidified Solberg’s interest in teaching after he finishes at St. Cloud State.
“For sure, I want to be a biology teacher,” Solberg said. “The trip and experience also opened me up to the possibility of teaching abroad.”
Solberg also credited some of his interest in teaching overseas to another former SCSU student-athlete Chelsea Nooker (women’s basketball), who taught this year at the American International School in Abuja, Nigeria.
“I would be interested in teaching anywhere, but international teaching would certainly open a few more doors for me,” Solberg said. “It would be so cool to teach somewhere else.”
In the meantime, Solberg and the Huskies will be heading back to campus in mid-August for practice sessions in preparation for the upcoming 2019 season. SCSU football opens with a road game at the University of Mary on Sept. 5, followed by the Huskies’ home opener on Sept. 14 against Minnesota Crookston.