Story and Photos by Paul Clark
Warren Wilson is teaching its students about the future by holding on to a bit of its past.
Students like Nick Shaw are renovating the college’s 80-year-old log cabin, which once housed its library and now houses its print shop and the program that matches students’ interests with work that needs doing on campus. For Shaw and others, that means renovating the Work Program Log Cabin.
Work is as important to the college as are students’ academic experiences and their service to the community. As one leg of the college’s learning Triad, work is an area in which students often can apply the lessons they’ve learned in the classroom and those their service to others have taught them.
Work “is just another connection to school that you have,” said Shaw, who works on the student renovation crew, as he helped contractor Tom Ross build an interior doorway in the cabin. “I can walk around Warren Wilson and say ‘I worked on that’ and ‘I built that.’ It makes it feel more like a home. And, this experience is going to help me when I have a house that needs work.”
The Asheville Farm School library and Carson Hall classroom and administrative buildings, c1930s.
The cabin was built in 1932-33 by students from trees harvested on campus at a time when Warren Wilson, then called Asheville Farm School, was still a church-supported institution created to educate local youth. Indicative of the kind of round-log cabins the students would have grown up building, the structure has held up amazingly well. Ian Robertson, dean of work, occasionally looks up from his computer to see tiny cascades of wood dust – proof that the pine logs are still vital (and tasty, evidently).
Students have worked for months raising the uneven floors and updating the plumbing and electricity. While Shaw, a second-semester senior from Richmond, Va., was building a wall on the main floor, fellow students Alex Boyd and Ben Grimm were working on the bathroom below. All were getting hands-on lessons in building that would further what they’d learned in their studies, Robertson believes.
“Work is more than labor,” Robertson, a good-humored man with a silver beard, said in his lovely English accent. “Within the completion of any task are components such as communication and critical thinking. These are the transferable skills that employers are looking for right now.”
Working on campus, he said, gives students the opportunity to reflect upon what they’ve studied and experienced through their academic work and community service. “Work gives you a much broader understanding of how the world works,” Robertson said. “We think that’s important.”
And, it’s satisfying. Every day when Shaw returns to work on the cabin, he stops to appreciate the work he and others like Boyd and Grimm have done. Progress is easy to gauge when you’re building, he said. For Warren Wilson students, that’s true at all times, whether they’re building for the future or upon the past….