Harper College professor drowns while swimming with family in Costa Rica
A biology instructor at Harper College in Palatine, who was preparing for students to join him for a study-abroad program, drowned on Christmas Day in Costa Rica, school officials said.
Craig Stettner, a full-time associate biology professor at Harper since 2002, was on vacation ahead of the students' arrival and swimming with his family when the tragedy occurred Tuesday, said Kathy Bruce, dean of mathematics and science at Harper.
Bruce said the Harper community has been in shock and grieving since hearing about Stettner's death.
"His classroom had no walls," Bruce said Thursday. "He wanted his students to experience what he was teaching them. And so one of the most frequent ways was you'd see Craig on campus with a class full of students in waders with nets and buckets. They'd be out to the Harper pond collecting specimens or they'd be traveling to the Harper prairie to do some observing."
Stettner was preparing to lead a group of Harper students in field research in the Costa Rican rain forest from Jan. 3 to 13 for the short-term study-abroad program, which Bruce said has been canceled. The students were to volunteer at a wild animal rescue center, attend lectures and spend five evenings at a tropical rain forest field station as part of their learning.
Bruce said Stettner headed at least 10 trips to Costa Rica for Harper students.
Harper College President Ken Ender expressed his condolences to Stettner's family. He said the instructor inspired his students.
"He was an excellent teacher, an invaluable colleague and a friend to all who worked with him," Ender said in a statement.
In 2013, Stettner was honored by Citizens for Conservation in Barrington for the many years he led Harper students in volunteering for local environmental organizations to cut brush, pull weeds and restore spaces to benefit nature. He received the William H. Miller Conservation Award -- the Barrington group's highest honor.
"My goal every year is to expose my Harper students to real ecological work in the hope that it inspires them to learn even more about biology, the environment and ecology and our role in all of it," he said after receiving the honor. "They're able to help a good cause while learning, and that to me is the real reward."
Stettner was known to organize bird walks for the Chicago Audubon Society at Spring Lake Forest Preserve in Barrington Hills. He also was part of a group that monitors dragonflies in Illinois and gave presentations about them at College of Lake County in Grayslake, Hickory Knolls Discovery Center in St. Charles and elsewhere in the suburbs.
"He had a love for teaching and a passion for the environment," said Bruce, who knew Stettner for nearly five years. "He was dedicated to both of those things."