The following speech was presented by Executive Director Kate Stephenson at the 30th Anniversary celebration on May 15, 2010
Yestermorrow 2010 and Beyond
For those of you who I haven’t met yet, my name is Kate Stephenson, and I am the Executive Director here at Yestermorrow. It’s wonderful to see so many familiar faces and at the same time so many new ones. It’s truly amazing to think about where the school has been and all the changes over the past 30 years that make Yestermorrow what it is today. In my experience here at the school over the past 8 years, I’ve been able to be a part of many of those changes and met many incredible people in the process. After hearing John talk about the beginnings of the school, I’d like to take this opportunity to talk a little bit about where we are today, and what the next 30 years of Yestermorrow might have in store.
Today, 2010, Yestermorrow is offering a record 168 classes a year. Our 1,100 students a year come from around the country and around the globe (this year we’ve had students from Germany, Hong Kong, and all over Canada). We have over 150 instructors on our faculty from as far as Hawaii, Ontario, Seattle and Florida. The school’s reach and reputation continue to grow as our graduates help us spread the word about what’s happening here at Yestermorrow.
In addition to our many short courses, we now offer three in-depth certificate level courses – in Sustainable Building and Design, Natural Building and Woodworking. All three programs are currently full to capacity and interest increases every year. We’re seeing more and more students coming to Yestermorrow as a critical stepping stone in their careers, some of them choosing Yestermorrow as an alternative to a traditional college education, others coming as part of a mid-career transition into something new.
Over the past 10 years we have had 127 interns working at the school (myself included). These emerging design/build professionals are in many ways the core of our educational program. They help us keep the school running, are enthusiastic students, and build an incredible skill set and network during their time at Yestermorrow, ranging from 3 to 12 months. Our former interns have gone on to become award-winning architects, skilled furnituremakers, teachers, small businesspeople, treehouse builders, solar installers, and timberframers. In many ways they are the future of the design/build profession, and many of them are now coming back to the School as instructors, helping us build the next generation of faculty.
This year marks a major shift towards reducing our fossil fuel footprint on campus with the installation of two new solar systems- a 100,000 BTU solar hot water system to heat water for the kitchen and bathrooms; and a 28 kW photovoltaic system which will produce over 90% of the electricity needed to power the campus each year. Both of these projects are not only about “walking the talk” and demonstrating what we teach, but they also help improve our organizational sustainability by lowering our operating costs to heat and power the campus.
This year we also celebrate the 10th anniversary of the summer lecture series (although I did find an old flyer in the archives for a 1983 lecture series, so maybe it’s been more than 10 years…). This annual event is an important way for us to reach out to the local community, talk about what we’re doing here, and provide an educational resource for the Mad River Valley. We bring in creative, inspiring leaders from the design/build world to talk about their work on a diverse range of topics. We just published the lecture schedule yesterday, so please pick up a copy in the lobby or check it out on the website. The series starts June 16th and runs every Wednesday night through August 18th.
We also have 14 incredibly dedicated members of our Board of Directors who volunteer many hours of their time to hold the vision for the school alongside our staff, who despite being underpaid and overworked, make this place what it is today, and in hundreds of little ways keep things moving forward every day.
I’ve thrown out a lot of numbers, and that’s one quantitative way to get a sense of what’s going on here, but there are also so many un-quantifiable moments that tell the story of the School. A student comes back to visit with a handful of photos of the house they designed in a Home Design/Build class ten years ago and have finally built. A group of women gathered together at the end of a Carpentry for Women class who had never held a hammer before and have now learned how a whole building goes together. A certificate student launches his own natural building business with the skills he learned here. There are honestly so many stories I have trouble keeping track, because here at Yestermorrow EVERY DAY someone is learning something new and taking that knowledge out into the world and putting it into action.
So… that’s a little bit about where we stand. But the burning question remains: where are we going? In the year and a half since I took on the role of Executive Director, I’ve been getting that question a lot. Everyone wants to know what my vision is for the school. And while I have plenty of vision, I also believe wholeheartedly that this is not a place where one individual’s vision will rule the School. I see myself as a facilitator, an instigator, the person who asks the tough questions, and someone who can rally the people and resources to take Yestermorrow to the next level.
My vision for Yestermorrow is to build on what we’ve created so far, to raise the professionalism of the school, to improve the quality of the educational experience, and to make Yestermorrow a national center for design/build education.
Just after we celebrated Yestermorrow’s 25th anniversary we dove into an intensive year-long strategic planning process. We talked to students, to board members, to staff, to our competitors, and in the end we came out with a plan to:
- Increase the number and diversity of courses
- To build more in-depth certificate and semester programs
- To increase the professionalism of our staff and intern program
- To plan for future campus growth
And four years into this plan, I have to say I think we’re on target. This year we received a $25,000 grant to help us develop a semester-long program in sustainable design/build. We’ve hired Jon Mingle to design the curriculum and plan for the launch of the program in 2011. This is a really exciting step in deepening our relationships with architecture schools and colleges around the country and creating a hands-on program which will be truly unique.
We’ve also spent the last 3 years working to develop a campus master plan which will provide the facilities to make our enrollment goals possible. We’ve set REALLY ambitious goals for what we design and build― to create something beautiful which articulates in practice our mission of teaching ‘good design’, to push the limits of efficiency and on-site energy production towards a goal of carbon neutrality, to create an abundant permaculture landscape, and to incorporate students into the design and construction process. We’ve set the bar high. And as a result, we’re taking things slowly. We have an incredible base of knowledge within the Yestermorrow community, and we need to figure out how to tap it effectively to bring our big visions for the campus into reality.
These are big initiatives for the School, and while we can celebrate many successes, there are also challenges. We still struggle to fill every seat in every class and on average run our classes at only 60% full- so we need your help in spreading the word about the opportunities we offer here. We have a long way to go with our campus―and although after all the work today, I have to say it’s looking much better―but there’s so much more to do. We have a small staff and never enough hours in the day. We need to diversify our sources of funding beyond tuition in order to launch new programs and build new facilities. And in the end, we need to ensure that we continue to offer a consistently excellent education in each and every class. That is what sets Yestermorrow apart from everywhere else.