Papers and PowerPoint presentations have their place in academia, but sometimes an assignment calls for more. At least, that’s what Dana Gaubatz (C’12) and Ken Baughman (C’12) thought when Dr. Jackie Burns assigned the final project for her Native American Cultures course. “The project was supposed to bring awareness of Native American culture to the campus,” explained Dr. Burns, “and [Gaubatz and Baughman] chose to construct a dwelling that exemplified Native Americans’ sustainable living practices.”
The dwelling, located between Buck House and the library, was a small version of a pit house, a structure used by a number of Plateau tribes as a gathering place. “It looks primitive, but it’s really sophisticated,” Dr. Burns said. The students’ structure was dug three feet into the ground and went as high as three feet above ground. The top portion consisted of poplar trunks, provided by the biology department, which Gaubatz and Baughman lashed together and covered with leaves and packed dirt. The inside of the dwelling was dug out in levels so that visitors could sit comfortably, and the structure was surprisingly roomy. Over a dozen of Gaubatz and Baughman’s classmates were able to fit inside.
Executing this project was no small feat, requiring time, labor, and coordination with both the biology department and the facilities crew, but Gaubatz described the entire process as harmonious. Once construction was finished, both Gaubatz and Baughman did their best to use the dwelling for authentic activities.
Dr. Burns was delighted by Gaubatz and Baughman’s work. She also credits Dr. Sally Steindorf, who previously taught this class, for the Native American Cultural Awareness project idea. “It is a very creative approach to experiential learning,” Burns notes, “and I wanted to preserve the continuity of the course content. The results of this project exemplify the wonderful possibilities that emerge when you engage students in the learning process.”