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Passion Propels Siena Heights University Prof to Map City Architecture

Passion isn’t just a vogue buzzword at Siena Heights University and Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities.

It’s a way of life, infusing everything from cafeteria menus that don’t taste like dorm food to professors whose love of their fields is absolutely contagious.

So when Siena Heights broke for summer, art history professor Peter Barr didn’t hit the beach. He hit his backyard, walking the streets of Adrian and cataloguing its rich architectural history for a website, adrianarchitecture.org, that offers “walking tours” of its downtown.

A quintessential small Midwestern college town, Adrian offers a periscope through a century of style. Homes built from the 1850s to 1960s are lovingly preserved and showcase more than a dozen architectural styles, from Greek revival to Colonial revival.

“It’s compact, remarkably well preserved and wonderfully serene, away from the hubbub,” Barr told told The Adrian Daily Telegram.

His website offers incredibly rich descriptions of all architectural styles and city history, along with photos, essays and other information about dozens of houses. Even for those with only a passing interest in architecture, it’s easy to lose track of time perusing the site.

“If you want information on a building, you have to come to archives and look in four, five places for all the information,” Jan Richardi, archivist at the Lenawee County Historical Society Museum, told The Telegram.

“Peter’s information is so comprehensive.”

Barr got interested in the town’s history after beginning to teach at Siena Heights 19 years ago. It’s since become a passion — and of course he’s involved his students who helped him research the homes and neighborhoods.

Such close collaboration is a hallmark of Siena Heights and Michigan’s other top 15 independent colleges and universities. Students don’t merely sit in lecture halls. They work closely with award-winning faculty, who help students find their own passion and chart their own path.

It’s a sense of community and cohesion that simply isn’t available at big state schools.

And despite what you may have heard, independents are often less expensive and boast higher four-year graduation rates that big universities.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

Andrews University students make tiny homes and a big difference

Tiny houses are all the rage. After years of McMansions, itsy bitsy homes the size of sheds are suddenly in vogue, from the TV show “Tiny House Nation” to a planned community in Cleveland.

Fashion was the furthest thing from the minds of Andrews University students, though, when they constructed homes that could be used to house the needy. Traditionally, students travel to Bolivia to build houses, but this year, charity came closer to home.

“We launched it not really knowing how it was going to turn out, but the students really liked it,” said Carey Carscallen, dean of the School of Architecture, Art & Design, who organized the project involving with five graduate students.

One house — “The Shed” — remained in a warehouse, unfinished. The other, nicknamed “Bay View” is a 148 square-foot marriage of practicality and luxury. It’s small enough to fit on an 18-foot trailer, but big enough to contain two bedrooms, a complete kitchen and bathroom. A website, theshedtinyhouse.com, tracked the progress of the project, which Carscallen hopes to repeat to provide tiny homes with needy residents of nearby Benton Harbor.

The project wasn’t just cool. It made students focus on different skillsets — teamwork, design, planning, maximizing limited resources — that architecture students don’t always get to use anyway. And it made them think differently about what defines a home, Carscallen said.

Thinking differently. That’s what faculties do at Andrews University and Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities.

The schools are guided by passion and community. Class sizes are small enough so students not only know their professors, they form lifetime bonds. Professors pride themselves on working closely with students to help them forge their own path, buck conventional wisdom and find a new way.

It’s an experience that simply isn’t available at traditional universities. And despite what you may have heard, independents are often less expensive and boast higher four-year graduation rates than four-year institutions.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.


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