Students in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies are gaining hands-on experience in sustainable design thanks to the generosity of Susan ’83 and Dave Keesee ’83 and the Susan and David Keesee Endowment for Undergraduate Research within the University Libraries.

The endowment was established in 2018 by the Keesees to provide support for undergraduate research related to government policy and environmental sustainability — the first undergraduate research endowment in the University Libraries. 

“Funds currently support education on sustainable architecture, including purchasing materials for workshops on sustainable design techniques,” said Sara Sweeney Bear, manager of the Fusion Studio in Newman Library. “The Fusion Studio hosts the Keesee grant. So those who receive the grant also receive membership in the studio. Some teams have a space of their own and don’t necessarily need the space here, but other teams do. And I also serve as a point person for helping them purchase materials using the grant.”

This year, the grant was used in part to purchase materials for three workshops involving wood, Rockite, and resin for undergraduate architecture students. Students are experimenting with these three materials for potential use in a collaborative, sustainable design-build Habitat for Humanity project in Merrimac, Virginia.

“The project will potentially be located in an area where we would have to separate an existing cow pasture from the house, so we’re investigating wall ideas that could mediate those two spaces,” said Deidre Regan, visiting instructor in the School of Architecture + Design. “This grant purchased the materials so students could experiment. It gives students a chance to test out modeling with materials they may not otherwise try. We encourage experimentation and hands-on learning. You can learn a lot from experimentation and even from failure. If you’re too afraid to try something and to potentially fail, however, you don’t learn as much.”

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Second year architecture and Honors College student Michael Cavicchio taught the workshop on Rockite, a fast-setting, hydraulic expansion cement. He has experience with the material and wanted to share his knowledge with classmates as a part of an Honors College project. 

“It’s great to help my classmates out and help them learn new skills. It’s a big thing in architecture,” said Cavicchio. “I learn things from my classmates all the time, and it’s great to give back to them.”

Cavicchio said he had never led a workshop before, but the experience he gained doing it will benefit his future.

“I’m gaining leadership skills as well as learning how to communicate in front of a large group in a formal setting,” said Cavicchio. “It is a good experience.”

Previous projects the grant helped support were the continuation of the TreeHAUS project, which began as a grand-award winning Department of Energy Solar Decathlon Design Competition entry, and a cork wall project that is now housed in the Creativity and Innovation Residence Hall on campus.

“The grant is open to individuals in any major, as well as interdisciplinary teams. It’s not just relegated to what you would normally think of as majors that would focus on  environmental sustainability,” said Sweeney Bear. “In fact, the grant itself puts an emphasis on projects regarding environmental policy.”

The Susan and David Keesee Endowment for Undergraduate Research within the University Libraries lowers the barriers for undergraduate students to explore their interests in sustainability and environmental policy through projects and research. 

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