Students are consultants for creation of Eco House

By Sara Nelson

The students in this year’s Environmental Studies senior seminar are doing more than completing a capstone requirement.
These 13 students have become consultants, charged with writing four grants to secure funding for green technologies that will help transform 200 Vernon St. into the Eco House.

The Eco House, designed to provide a sustainable living option for students and to serve as a way of educating the broader community about green remodeling techniques, is scheduled to open in the fall of 2007. There is currently space for four students to live in the house.
Environmental Studies professor Chris Wells, who is teaching the senior seminar, said that this project has been in the works for some time.
The college will provide an unknown amount of money for remodeling the house, which is already owned by Macalester. The grants the seminar is applying for will finance extra projects.

“[The house] was looking like it was going to work, but there wasn’t the money necessary to do what we wanted and we needed to write grants to secure funds,” he said.

The seminar has worked closely with Director of Foundation and Corporate Relations Helen Warren who helped the class identify the grants for which they are applying and has leant her grant writing expertise.
For the first three weeks of the semester, the class met as a group and discussed the Eco House and the vision behind it. Warren also conducted a short workshop on grant writing.
The class then broke into groups of three to four students, each in charge of writing grants related to specific technologies such as photovoltaic cells, geothermal energy and a complex energy monitoring system that gives up to the minute data about the house’s energy consumption. The fourth group is focusing on outreach to community organizations such as Fresh Energy and the Green Institute.
Wells said that writing the grants will help prepare students for future careers.

“Many majors will likely go into the world of environmental non-profits, so this is a beneficial thing to let them have a hand at,” Wells said. “It combines something that is good for the college with something that is good from a pedagogical standpoint.”

Sarah Stephens ’07, a student in the seminar and a member of the Eco House student advisory committee agreed.

“It’s a unique opportunity because it’s a very real world experience. The exercise of applying for grants is essential to what most people will do after college,” she said.

Wells, trained as a historian, said he has limited experience in the process of grant writing. Instead, he is serving as both a client and a professor in the project.

“My role is less as an expert in grant writing than as a client for whom the seniors are working,” he said. “I have turned the senior seminar into a group of consultants.”

Both Wells and Stephens stressed the role of community outreach that the house will play.
“A lot of what we want to do is to connect with the community to help us and link us,” Stephens said. “The house is not just for Macalester but for the wider community.”

The Eco House’s energy monitoring system will constantly produce raw data that will be useful for classes studying concepts such as renewable energy and for community members interested in remodeling older homes in a sustainable way.
“If we can provide a model for how to [remodel] in a cost-effective way our hope is that we can inspire residents who need to do renovations that they should go this way,” Wells said.
He added that homes built in the 1910s and 1920s often require a lot of renovation and remodeling.

So far, Wells said he is pleased with the work the seniors are doing.
“They are a talented, energetic group of interdisciplinary students who have the opportunity to leave a real legacy for the college and the community,” he said.