Symposium highlights student research

MIDDLEBURY – Where can you find solar houses, glass blowing, analyses of the Chilean health care system and old wooden trapping boats?
Students will be doing presentations on all of these — and more — this Friday at the Middlebury College Spring Student Symposium.
To be fair, the solar house won’t be on display, since it isn’t built yet. But building plans for the house will be on display all day at the symposium, an event that gives students a chance to present projects they have been doing to the wider community.
The first annual Spring Symposium was held at the college in 2007, with 94 students presenting research or creative projects. This year 220 students will be presenting work at the symposium, and all students have the day off to attend the presentations.
“(The symposium) provides an opportunity for faculty, staff and students to come together to enjoy the fruits of Middlebury’s core mission: knowledge without boundaries,” wrote symposium planning committee member Pat Manley in an email.
Renee Igo, a junior who will be presenting this Friday, spent the fall semester traveling around the county with fellow students Christian Woodard and Ben Meader and Vergennes boatbuilder Douglas Brooks.
While working on a project documenting historical boats, Brooks had stumbled upon some old wooden fur-trapping boats that farmers built in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the spring, many farmers would travel the flooded areas along the shore of Lake Champlain, trapping muskrats and selling them to fur traders for extra income. After the fur trade and the muskrat population dwindled in the 1960s and ’70s, the boats sat on farmers’ properties to rot.
The students were interested in the boats and in the stories behind them, so Igo and Woodard interviewed the farmers, mostly older now, collecting stories of how they had built and used the boats.
The two, who are both majoring in environmental studies with a focus in creative writing, wrote a 30-page paper about the stories they had gathered. But writing about it wasn]t good enough for them. With Brooks’ help, they used a boat that was still in good condition to make a blueprint. Tommy Lathrop of Bristol, who is an experienced trapper, volunteered to donate lumber for the project. So Igo, Woodard and Meader made a plan to build a usable replica of a trapping boat.
“We talked about trying to go trap muskrats when it’s done,” said Igo.
The project is still ongoing as the three haven’t begun building the replica. For the symposium, though, they borrowed a trapping boat from one of the farmers they interviewed, which will be on display during the symposium.
On Friday, Junior Addison Godine will be presenting plans for a net-zero energy solar house that recently was selected for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon.
Godine, sophomore Astrid Schanz-Garbassi, and juniors Alex Jopek and Joseph Baisch, along with a team of other students, had their plan selected as one of 20 college teams to receive funding to build the solar house over the next two years.
The biennial competition requires students to design and build a net zero-energy house using solar energy and heat over two years. Godine, an architecture major, said that he and several friends were inspired to create a house that was not only energy efficient, but that also seemed like a home. The idea came after he and 12 others traveled to Washington, D.C., to see the buildings in the 2009 competition.
“What we saw a lot of were really sophisticated houses technologically, but ones that didn’t feel so much like home,” he said. “We really wanted our house to speak to that.”
The group found out last week that their design had been chosen as one of 20 to receive $100,000 in funding for travel, consulting and stipends over the next two years, culminating in a month-long presentation of the houses on the Mall in the nation’s capital.
“Middlebury was an unlikely choice,” said Godine. “We don’t have an accredited architecture program. But I guess we pulled it out.”
The design is modeled after a New England farmhouse, and over the course of a Vermont year would produce enough electricity to power itself with solar energy. It, along with the wooden trapping boat and a wide range of other student projects, will be on display in Bicentennial Hall on Friday.
“The symposium is a celebration of (the learning) process throughout the Middlebury experience, from students’ first-year explorations to their capstone senior work,” said Manley.
Reporter’s note: Presentations will run throughout the day, beginning at 9 a.m. and running until 10 p.m. Events will be split between Bicentennial Hall and Johnson Memorial Building, with performances later in the evening taking place at the Mahaney Center for the Arts. The full schedule can be found online at
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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