2019 Semester in Sustainable Design/Build - An Intro

August 30, 2019
By Madi Visser, Semester Program Teaching Assistant


This blog will serve as a way for us to document our experiences as the 2019 Semester in Sustainable Design/Build. Many participants will contribute to the blog, so prepare to hear different voices covering various topics in diverse ways. Stay tuned for our stories from the Mad River Valley as we grow and learn in our process to create something unique and empowering. In this first blog post I will take your through our orientation trip, stopping along the way to introduce our cast of characters. I’ll start with myself; I’m Chris, a former student of Unity college and passionate soul caring for nature and wanting to improve built society. 

Gathered around one picnic bench stood eight students facing three instructors and one  assistant, how many wore Chacos? Math jokes aside, there was no lack of excitement to be passed around among the sundry group, for the day had finally arrived. Instructors Britton, Andy, Mac, and Madi briefed us on our mission to brave the heavily trodden frontier in the comfort of a luxury cabin accompanied by two incredibly animated and loving puppies. We said our introductions in line and continued on our way to the Chittenden Brook Hut, a former project of the same semester program two years prior. I was first acquainted with Emma, a Maine resident attending Smith College. We quickly learned that we shared the same devotion for feeling nauseous in cars. 

Before we could check in to the hut, we had to endure a sweaty, sticky climb to Silver Lake. Having swum in the vast, murky basin, we regrouped to eat lunch and play ice-breaking and familiarity games. This is where I received the nick-name “Big Booty” for introducing a game of the same name. Throughout it we began to talk about group processes, contextual and systems thinking, and our hopes and fears for the semester. However, the majority of getting to know one another usually happened during the hiking bits walking side by side. I quickly learned that Archie, and architecture student at UMass was incredibly passionate about architecture and the finer things in life. Trey came all the way from Colorado and made the impression of a driven individual with big dreams and the work ethic to get him wherever he wants to go. Lily, a UVM graduate, became a staple member to keep the group together, having worked as a camp counselor previously. Her love for dogs and positive energy kept group morale high. 

Later that day we arrived at the hut and had dinner through discussion about broken bones, funny stories, and even some thinking about the structure we were in. After all, it wasn’t exclusively fun and games; we needed to begin thinking about the building we were in and how it affected us. That night we learned that Hadley, a graduate of Tufts and spirited adventurer was affected by the building by choosing to sleep on the floor. During our stay at the hut we began to dissect how the building made us feel, how it could be improved, and various other factors to take into account. Our brains were being opened in new ways; a critical step towards design thinking. 

I became friends with Sawyer, a student at UMass, through the addicting and frustrating pastime of hacky-sack. Hours were spent with him and others accidentally kicking the sack off the balcony and talking about anything that came to mind. Aanika, another UVM graduate proved to be a lively spirit and endless source of movie-esque adventure stories that always took the group by surprise. We are a mismatched group for sure, but I’m certain that our differences will only make us stronger as a team. We made it back to campus and began working and developing our skills to tackle the daunting project ahead. Stay tuned for our upcoming adventure and challenged as we attempt to design a dorm building for campus.

Wish us luck!