The Solidarity of

Words by Patrick Williams
Photos by Latrice Harrison

Students from the initiative pose with high school students from Upward Bound, a college preparation program. The two groups provided service for senior citizens on National TRiO Day Feb. 22, 2014. Photo courtesy of Latrice Harrison.

When students in Kent State’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design signed up for the class and student initiative, most of them had no idea they would be taking a trip to Antigua, Guatemala in May.

Now, however, they are planning accordingly and raising funds to take the trip. They are hosting the “design hope | build hope competition” in which contestants design homes, one of which will be built for an impoverished family in the Central American city.

“You can build a house down there for like three grand. It’s totally different,” says Hannah McGowan, junior architectural studies major and d.i.s secretary, in a Friday morning meeting in Taylor Hall.

Samantha Ayotte, senior architecture major and d.i.s public relations manager, says that on the trip she is hoping to experience “A different style of living and…” she takes a long pause, “…food.”

Spearheaded by adviser Beth Bilek-Golias, assistant professor and coordinator of outreach and service in CAED, and her assistant, Kent State alumna Latrice Harrison, d.i.s has a mission of “bridging local and global communities.”

Upward Bound students making a collage for senior citizens on National TRiO Day. Photo courtesy of Latrice Harrison.

Students took a trip to Antigua in 2012; in 2013, they worked at the King Kennedy Community Center in Ravenna. This year’s main focus is the return trip to Antigua and corresponding competition, although students have already participated in smaller-scale, local efforts.

Such efforts involved working with high school students from Kent State’s Upward Bound program, which strives to prepare them for college, according to the website.

d.i.s. and Upward Bound students visited the Summa Health Center in Akron on Feb. 7 and interviewed senior citizens about their lives. For National TRiO Day, a national day of service on February 22, the students returned to the health center and made collages based on the interview responses.

Harrison says that because it was Black History Month, the students worked with many African-American seniors. “The most important thing to me was honestly that we had a class full of Caucasian students who learned a lot from senior citizens who had been through things they had never experienced before,” Harrison says.

Jillian Gaietto, sophomore mathematics major, architectural studies minor and d.i.s vice president, says she was paired with a woman who was involved in the civil rights movement and has her name on a brick at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. The woman also owned a travel business and visited different parts of the world. In her collage, Gaietto included bricks, a picture of the plaque and a map of places where the woman had visited.

As d.i.s’ partners have a rich history, so does the initiative itself.

Fall 2010 saw the beginning of ARCS in Service, an initiative advised by Bilek-Golias and composed of architectural studies students, including Harrison. (The difference between architecture and architectural studies is that architectural studies is a nonprofessional program, while architecture is a professional one.)

Harrison was snowed in at Munich later that fall when she met a knowledgeable and well-traveled American man. He told her about alternative spring break efforts; she had already been thinking about going to New Orleans to rebuild.

The two ended up having a long conversation.

“I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t really know how I wanted to go about doing it, and that conversation just kind of changed everything for me,” Harrison says.

He told her how he used to get around 30 people and rent charter flights to Europe.

The following spring, Mike Herpy, a former CAED adjunct instructor, traveled to Guatemala on an individual service trip. He worked with Constru Casa, a nonprofit that builds homes for impoverished families in the country. While on the trip, he Skype messaged ARCS in Service.

Jun Xu, a senior architecture major, working with an Upward Bound student on a project for National TRiO Day. Photo courtesy of Latrice Harrison.

A discussion between Bilek-Golias and the students, along with Harrison’s insights, led to the idea of taking a trip to Antigua and working with Constru Casa the following year. They wanted to include students from the architecture and interior design programs as well—the other two majors in CAED—in the initiative. They renamed it the more-inclusive

“We decided as a college that it should be open to everyone, and it only makes it a richer experience for all the college students and the community members to work in that way,” Bilek-Golias says.

A year later, d.i.s traveled to Antigua.

Harrison, who had then graduated and was working as a volunteer, says the project was labor-intensive. It involved digging a foundation and cutting holes with chisels into cement bricks—old methods of carpentry and masonry. Bilek-Golias says students worked with master masons and the recipients of the home.

In her office, Bilek-Golias looks at pictures of Guatemalan children. “They were so excited because they’re finally going to have a home,” she says.

The project was a success, but it later came up that people in the local community also needed help. So in the spring 2013 semester d.i.s altered its focus to the King Kennedy Community Center, which Harrison says provides meals as well as job and computer training to seniors and children. The students frequented the community center that spring, including on National TRiO Day. They painted walls, tore others down and installed lighting, among other things.

Dustan Byler, senior architectural studies major and d.i.s president, worked at the King Kennedy Community Center last year. Byler has noticed the difference between working on a semester-long project and planning for an upcoming one. “Last year was interior remodeling; this is more abstract,” he says.

Bilek-Golias says the competition, which is new this year, offers Constru Casa sustainable design options to work with in addition to service.

It’s also a learning experience for the students, who are hoping to work in a field where these types of competitions are commonplace.

Registration for the competition was open to students and professionals until March 28, and the submission deadline was April 7. The competition is supported by faculty members of CAED Global Education and its coordinator, David Thal. Each individual, team or firm is allowed three submissions. The competition brief states that submissions will be judged on criteria such as aesthetic appeal, consideration of environmental and site conditions as well as use of local materials. The review panel consists of design professionals from multiple universities and organizations.

“All of the funds for registration and everything go toward the building of the homes in Guatemala,” Gaietto says. “So that’s our head start effort right now—getting focused and trying to make this the best opportunity for the people who are submitting designs and then getting the best design for the building.”

Bilek-Golias briefly left the classroom where Harrison and the 11 students—six architectural studies, four architecture and one math major—are sitting around the table, but she is back now. She points to the scripted class agenda on the whiteboard.

“So as you can see, we have a long list of stuff,” she says.

With every piece of information the students learn and impart, and as the sense of community between them further develops, the fact that they were in the dark about the whole thing just months ago seems less and less conceivable.

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