An Intentional Way of Living

By Karen Updyke

Today, Blue Rock Station is Ohio’s premier sustainable living farm, bringing green living alive with school day trips, llama treks, group tours of Ohio’s first Earthship plus straw bale cabin stays and weekend workshops.

A visit to the Blue Rock Station is an opportunity to rest from the unreal world of fast-paced work and city life, and step into another world. Annie and Jay have created a sustainable living oasis located just south of Zanesville in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, and they invite their guests and interns to share their lives as they milk goats, construct buildings or grow food.

Last spring, mechanical engineering student, Naomi Schalle’s interest in Blue Rock Station was peaked through the University of Dayton School of Engineering’s ETHOS program, and a 10-week, life-changing internship followed. “The rolling hills, the valley that Annie calls a ‘holler,’ were peaceful and impressive. Annie, Jay and the interns would sit together for breakfast, lunch and dinner and look over the beauty of the property," said Schalle. “When you sit at the Blue Rock Overlook, you can see the property boundaries from hill to hill and down into the valley.”

Through her transformational experience, Schalle saw the world from a new light. “My whole mindset changed after being on the farm. It is an intentional way of living. One has to be intentional and understand that everything you do has an impact. One day, if you decide to take a long shower, there is an impact to your action. The summer internship turned out to be a valuable, community collaboration that made me socially aware of the consequences of my actions. I learned about the lifestyle behind sustainability from a holistic approach, not just technological,” explained Schalle.

Schalle's Blue Rock experience and her answers below define the value of an off-campus experiential learning experience — whether you participate in an internship, research, cooperative education, international immersion or study abroad — experiential learning adds a new dimension, a new value to your engineering education at the University.

Q: What was your role as an intern at Blue Rock?
A: A lot of different things. During the first month, Annie assigned various tasks until each intern’s interest was revealed. Therefore, I:

  • participated in the morning farm chores, all interns, every morning, had to do farm chores;
  • helped assemble a solar generator at a workshop on solar generators;
  • worked with materials for the straw-baled barn, so the goats would stop eating the very straw that was supporting it;
  • pounded earth into tires for a foundation of a tiny house;
  • renovated the milk room for efficiency and aesthetics;
  • attained certification to install small wind turbine systems (30’) at Zane State College, which was free for interns because they believe in investing in their interns and their future;
  • helped install a wind turbine system at Blue Rock Station, so cool.

Q: Did the Blue Rock experience change your academic path?
A: The mechanical engineering undergraduate degree will serve me well. It gives me a good, solid academic background, but I might consider adding the Sustainability, Energy and the Environment (SEE) minor offered at the University.

Q: Do you plan to attend graduate school?
A: I’m considering the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering’s master’s program in renewable and clean energy or potentially an interdisciplinary master’s program involving public policy or environmental policy. I have not formulated what yet, but the Blue Rock experience answered why I would potentially want to go towards those programs.

Q: Any advice to give those considering an ETHOS internship?
A: I would say that if you’re thinking about doing anything like this — definitely go for it! The experience could turn into one of the best, life-altering experiences that you could ever have. It honestly showed me the kind of life that I would like to live in the future. If you have the option, just have the mindset: ‘Sure, why not? I’m here at the University for a short amount of time and should just do it!’

The ETHOS Center offers a variety of experiential learning opportunities, including:

  • During the academic year, students participate in the ETHOS Club and domestic breakouts. They focus on raising awareness about global issues through participation in local projects.
  • In the summer, students experience ETHOS immersions or international breakouts. Immersions are 10-week summer internships centered around work on appropriate technology projects. Breakouts are 10-day trips that give a taste of what the immersion has to offer.
  • New to ETHOS: the ETHOS Dayton Semester of Service. This program encourages growth through experiential learning, creation of intentional community and support from local agencies.
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