Harper naming campus prairie in honor of professor who drowned in Costa Rica

  • The prairie on the east side of Harper College's campus in Palatine will be named in honor of professor Craig Stettner, who drowned late last year while swimming in Costa Rica. "He loved it -- he was involved in maintaining it, taking care of it," fellow professor Richard Johnson said.

    The prairie on the east side of Harper College's campus in Palatine will be named in honor of professor Craig Stettner, who drowned late last year while swimming in Costa Rica. "He loved it -- he was involved in maintaining it, taking care of it," fellow professor Richard Johnson said. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Craig Stettner was an associate biology professor at Harper College in Palatine.

    Craig Stettner was an associate biology professor at Harper College in Palatine. Courtesy of Harper College

  • Harper College's board of trustees voted last week to name the prairie on the east side of the school's Palatine campus in honor of professor Craig Stettner, who drowned late last year while swimming in Costa Rica.

    Harper College's board of trustees voted last week to name the prairie on the east side of the school's Palatine campus in honor of professor Craig Stettner, who drowned late last year while swimming in Costa Rica. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
By Jennifer Shea
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 5/1/2019 8:43 AM

Harper College professor Craig Stettner spent much of his professional life on the prairie.

So it is perhaps fitting that, just months after his untimely death, the college is naming the prairie on its Palatine campus in his honor.

 

Stettner was a member of the biology department at Harper, as well as faculty adviser for the environmental club. He drowned in Costa Rica while swimming with his family on Christmas.

At the time. he had been preparing for students to join him there for Harper's study abroad program, one of at least 10 trips to Costa Rica he'd led for the college.

The college's board voted last week to name the prairie the Craig Stettner Prairie. A formal sign unveiling is scheduled for June.

"Craig was known for his passion about conservation," said English professor Richard Johnson, who also directs the Office of International Education and worked with Stettner on the study abroad program.

Johnson said Stettner was devoted to the prairie.

"He loved it -- he was involved in maintaining it, taking care of it," he said. "He would take students out there constantly."

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The idea to name the prairie for Stettner came from the faculty senate and students. Chief Advancement Officer Laura Brown said Stettner's former students also have raised more than $14,000 to endow a scholarship in Stettner's name.

"Many of Craig's former students who traveled on several international study trips call themselves the 'Craigers,'" Brown said. "There is a whole network of former students who have stories on how Craig impacted their lives and were very interested in the dedication."

Stettner helped launch the prairie and was out there frequently to conduct habitat restoration, clear trails and supervise annual controlled burns. He also was a founding member of Harper's Sustainability Work Group and the Sustainability Community of Practice, which strives to incorporate environmental issues into the curriculum.

"He was truly one of the most unselfish people to walk the face of the earth," Johnson said.

"I worked closely with him for 10 years in creating his biology study abroad class. I remember him as a patient, kind human being who was always able to find the best in the people he came across."

Stettner's passion for the environment took him from the prairie to the rainforests of Costa Rica. He led students on excursions to places like a wild animal rescue center and a tropical rainforest field station.

"He was very quiet, he was not someone to draw attention to himself, but he was one of those people who make things happen," Johnson said. "His impact on students and his colleagues was immeasurable."

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