From sub-zero temperatures to extreme heat, the members of the Architecture and Engineering Club (AE) from the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) are making a serious heroic impact at Virgin Islands Montessori School & Peter Gruber International Academy (VIMSIA) by renovating various communal grounds while getting hands-on experience with the materials they are studying.
Bob Maxwell, faculty advisor for the club, has been participating in service projects all over the world for the last 18 years with the help of Habitat for Humanity. This trip was different than all others and extra meaningful to the group of eight volunteers because it is the first independent trip they’ve taken without the support of Habitat for Humanity.
The connection to VIMSIA was first made when a member of the AE Club contacted a friend on St. Thomas who works at VIMSIA. One thing led to another, and the AE Club group began hosting fundraisers back home to cover expenses for their first independent trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Maxwell said, “The biggest advantage, and what they don’t know the first time, is the value of service work. Service work is a step outside their small world and for the betterment of the world per say.”
The club is led by Oakley Carlson, club president, and David Chamberlain, vice president, with special guidance from construction specialist Eric Hauer. Chamberlain explained the uniqueness of this trip and the challenges they faced, including coordination and transportation. “It was the first time we had to do something like this with a few unknowns. Coming to the Virgin Islands was a new one on us too; it’s a new culture – which is not a challenge, but different and exciting!” said Chamberlain.
Hauer added that, like him, several of Maxwell’s students are inspired hearing stories of past service opportunities and are drawn to serve. “He’s responsible for getting me involved. When I was taking one of his classes, he talked about the projects that they do, and it peeked my interest since it’s something I had wanted to do for a long time,” Hauer said.
“Most of our team are engineering students; some are construction management students.” said Hauer, a former construction management student prior to transferring to Kansas State University to study architectural engineering.
VIMSIA, a leader in environmentally sustainable initiatives, is 100 percent solar, has various storage systems, collects road run-off water for irrigation, tends to an organic garden and utilizes solar refrigerator and freezers. With the help of the AE club volunteers, new fencing has been installed on the Montessori campus, various buildings were painted and remodeled, a new climbing wall was installed and improvements were made to the school’s playground.
“My favorite part of this trip has been the people and seeing their reactions, especially when they learn we’re from Alaska. Their faces light up!” said Carlson, club co-president.
The VIMSIA family extends their sincere appreciation to the AE club for their time and dedication to help improve the school and community. The school hopes to visit Alaska and their friends at UAA in the future, according to Head of School Michael Bornn.