Saturday, December 15, 2007

Trey and The Man

Unity Frosh Trey, who is 18 going on 35, ran into a slight problem with his group project for Interpretation class. For those of you who are not of the intiated, interpretation or interp is what museums and visitor centers do when they explain stuff to you with pictures and notices and displays. It's a required class for Parks, Recreation and Ecotourism majors, as well as for Environmental Education majors, and it double-counts as Oral Communications. Their teacher this time was Cindy Thomashow, our college president's wife, and a nationally famous environmental educator.

So far, so good. But Trey's group had the idea of turning our dinosaur Activities Building into a "Museum of Inefficiency." Told of this upfront, I thought, "no problem there -- it is a museum of inefficiency." I should know, because I keep the books on its heat fuel consumption. This building was built by people who thought that #2 heat oil would never cost more than a few cents a gallon.

The result of Trey's group's hard work, however, was a hilarious comedy of errors, involving the Maintenance Crew, the campus police, the President, Mitch, his wife Cindy, and associated stagehands. The museum went up, red carpet, velvet ropes and all, The Man found out, the museum came down, taken down bodily by the stagehands, only for The Man to discover that the President's wife had authorized it in the first place.

But who is The Man?

Trey's reflective homework is below. BTW, we just got the planning committee of the Board to recommend $150,000 of spending most of which will go to making this building climate neutral in the next two years, and less expensive to heat, so hopefully it won't be nearly as inefficient in the future. And we got its emissions and fuel use both down 34% by switching out the main boilers for new, efficient models two years ago, so things are not quite as bad as they might seem at "America's Environmental College." I still thought Trey's group had a point, and the did a great job with the "museum." But life wouldn't be fun without the occasional SNAFU.

Interp Gone Wrong, by Trey

As the final project in “Interpretation of Natural and Cultural Heritage” class this semester, Prof. Cindy Thomashow broke the class into small groups and asked each group to design and present an interpretive experience about carbon footprints. The group I was in, after much deliberation, chose to turn the Activities Building into the “Museum of Inefficiency.” This piece was to be a series of formal, museum-style displays, complete with frames, independent lighting, red carpets, and informational plaques. I put a great deal of work into this project. I researched which parts of the building to present, organized group meetings to put the plaques together, got permission and schedules from the people in the parts of the building to be presented, printed the plaques and laminated them and drove the group to Augusta to purchase all the supplies. Then I spent a few days down in the woodshop building frames, posts for the red ropes, painting the ropes and carpets red and finally, carefully stenciling and painting a 15 foot 1x12 sign that said “Museum Of Inefficiency.” The maintenance crew was very helpful, assisting me in every way I needed from providing paint and explaining the idiosyncrasies of their equipment to loaning me the work studies and a truck to cart the stuff up to activities. My group and I got everything put up in preparation for the big day, laying out the carpet and frames and lighting, and I scaled the front of the building holding the sign by a piece of bailing wire in my teeth to attach it 20 feet off the ground. The result was well worth it. Prez. Thomashow, a representative from the PR dpt., a few people from outside the school and a few more people from inside the school cane to see the presentations, and our went off splendidly. We led the group around from exhibit to exhibit, explaining how much heat was lost through the walls and ceilings, describing the windows and talking about the boilers. Then we finished off with a beautiful PowerPoint discussing the possible renewable technologies that could be put into place in the building and what the school was doing to move us in that direction. We felt really good about it, and the audience seemed to enjoy it as well.

Then, that afternoon I checked my e-mail, and I had received a rather scathing chastisement from Maintenance explaining how hard the school works on sustainability and how immature and rude it was of me to vandalize the activities building that way, how I had wasted their time and forced them to take down my stupid prank. I was honestly caught completely unaware. Though perhaps it should have, it had never occurred to me that anyone would take offence to this presentation, but they seemed quite personally offended. I suppose, given the attitudes that some students have, I can understand why, but I felt terrible. I wrote them a long apology and explained that it was part of a class project and that I had meant neither them nor anyone else any offence and that I was sorry for them feeling any responsibility for the situation. I also alerted Cindy. Maintenance wrote me back a rather succinct e-mail telling me that if I had communicated properly in the first place, these types of confusions could have been avoided. Cindy wrote to them as well claiming full responsibility and politely asking them to get their fact straight before making accusations, and I appreciated her support. I told maintenance that I would take care of the rest of the displays, but when I went to do so, they were gone.

Ah, well, life rolls on.

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