Students will ‘think big and build small’ as they explore how, when, and where environmental studies and arts education converge to shape communities
In September, a group of St. Mary’s College of Maryland students, along with high school students from the Forrest Career and Technology Center, began work on the construction of two tiny houses, dwelling structures from 80 to 400 square feet that are gaining traction as green, energy-efficient alternatives to average size and larger single-family houses.
The “SMCM Tiny House Project: Think Big, Build Small” is the focus of a Community Sustainable Design course, cross-listed between environmental studies and art, led by professors Barry Muchnick, of environmental studies and Carrie Patterson, of art and art history. Over the course of the year, students will spend time both in class and in the community discussing, planning, and executing the build. The class is structured in part as a seminar, with discussion around four central ideas: community, art education, sustainability, and design.
Muchnick, in his second year at the college, brings a robust interest in applied sustainability and interdisciplinary environmental studies, and Patterson, in her eleventh year at the college, brings an interest in architectural forms and expertise in art education.
An interdisciplinary approach to learning
The course is a prime example of St. Mary’s College’s dedication to experiential and interdisciplinary learning. “The partnership between environmental studies and art exemplifies the college’s investment in cross-disciplinary studies as well as its commitment to sustainability and community engagement,” Patterson explained. “This yearlong project will provide students with the unique opportunity to learn how design and sustainability fit into the context of everyday life from two professors with differing areas of expertise. We are excited to showcase an innovative and challenging opportunity to partner with our local community and create dialogue around sustainability.”
The goal of the course is to explore how environmental and arts education can reveal opportunities to identify creative connections between sustainability, design, and civil society. Students will not only develop the academic skills of critical thinking and engagement, but they will also learn to use a toolkit of practical skills, including tool safety, project management, and sustainable house construction through hands-on experience.
Project-based active learning to enhance creative citizenship
In collaboration with the Forrest Career and Technology Center, the Greenwell Foundation, Lexington Park Elementary School, and the Three Oaks Center, St. Mary’s College aims to explore the connections between sustainable design and community art education. One of the student-constructed homes, funded separately by the Greenwell Foundation, will be used to house a displaced veteran through the organization’s Camp Host Program.
“Our tiny house project is exciting, entrepreneurial, and demonstrates experiential liberal arts learning at its best,” said Muchnick. “The project will help spark community-wide conversations about a wide range of social and environmental concerns.”
Students are excited. Senior Dario Durastanti said, “Personally, I want to be able to hold conversations pertaining to the class topics of sustainable design and community arts as an educated individual with hands-on experience, instead of as someone from the outside looking in.”
Funding to support the SMCM Tiny House Project comes from a three-year grant received by the college in 2012 by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The grant funds initiatives expanding civic-engagement and service-learning opportunities in the college’s core curriculum. For more information about The Tiny House Project at St. Mary’s College, or to check out the progress, visit the project’s official website at www.smcm.edu/tinyhouse or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.