Claire Hamilton’s laugh is contagious, her personality warm, and her voice undeniably calming.
And those attributes, as well as an adventurous spirit, served her well during not one but three outdoor-immersion experiences while at Luther, where she majored in environmental studies and French. As an incoming first-year student, she ventured to the Boundary Waters with an intimate group of five other students and two leaders. “It was the first time that I had ever been in the wilderness with absolutely no access to technology,” says Hamilton, a native of tiny Conesville, Iowa. “It was a transformative experience for me, and I made such strong connections with the other students in my group.”
She also developed the skills and confidence that inspired her to lead outdoor trips through Endeavor Together, a pre-orientation program designed to unite incoming first-year Luther students to build community and prepare for college life. Before her junior year, Hamilton co-led a backpacking trip on the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin. The following August, she guided two groups on the Upper Iowa River, canoeing some 50 miles over five days. “My goal was to create a safe, inclusive space where the participants felt as comfortable as possible getting to know each other as they entered Luther,” Hamilton reflects. “It was stressful at times but extremely rewarding to know that I could have a positive influence and give back to the college that way.”
It was far from the only way she gave back while at Luther. As a first-year student, Hamilton dove right in to the Luther chapter of Habitat for Humanity, helping build a home in Florida one year and co-leading a spring break trip to New Orleans the following year as a member of the chapter’s executive board. “Habitat for Humanity allowed me to build community and homes alongside other Luther students I might not have interacted with otherwise,” she says.
Luther, says Hamilton, felt like home from the start, due in part to the fact that she had visited the campus and her aunt, Jane (Greene) Hildebrand ’74, former women’s basketball coach and assistant dean of student life, numerous times as a child. The college’s setting amid the Driftless Region was also a big draw for Hamilton, who was born with a love of the outdoors. One of the ways she fed that love was through interning at the Raptor Resource Project to band and take measurements of birds of prey before releasing them back to the wild. “What’s more exciting than trapping migrating hawks and other raptors?” she says.
Perhaps embarking on a new career in a new place amid new people. Hamilton recently moved to Wilmington, Delaware, where she is working with the Cornerstone West Community Development Project through the Lutheran Volunteers Corps. “It’s a community-revitalization organization focused on building economy, connecting community, and achieving sustainability,” she says. “Through my classes and my many other experiences while at Luther, I’ve learned that environmental issues aren’t just about the environment and that we need to look for solutions from a holistic perspective. I think I can do that here.”