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PROFILE: A Lesson Learned In Transforming An Empty Lot Into A Home

Steve Williamson’s first UC academic experience was in a classroom with no walls – that is, until the students built them.

Date: 10/10/2005 8:00:00 AM
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: Dottie Stover
UC ingot “One of the things that surprised me was how well we worked together – being complete strangers.”

Steve Williamson
Steve Williamson

Two weeks before heading back to class (some as early as 8 a.m.), Steve Williamson, a second-year aerospace engineering major from Colerain Township, could have indulged in sleeping in. Instead, he was setting his alarm to join a group of first-year Honors Scholars at a construction site, because he thought it was fun.

Steve was familiar with the drill, quite literally. Last year, he was among the first class of Honors Scholars to get an early jump on the university-wide construction partnership with Cincinnati Habitat for Humanity as part of a new freshman Honors Scholars English class.

Steve says he liked the course so much that he wanted to come back and help this year’s Honors Scholars who were assigned to the two-week construction blitz before school started – even if it meant getting up before the sun. And, he admits he’s not much of an early bird.

“Steve is so invested in serving the community that he dropped everything last year, on short notice, to join the class. So, I wasn’t surprised to see Steve back at the site this year, working hard to help the new group of Honors Scholars stay on the construction schedule,” said Debbie Brawn, academic director of the UC Honors Scholars Program.

Mike Luegering
Mike Luegering

“I didn’t do any sawing last year, so that was new for me. There was another freshman from DAAP, Mike Luegering, who was on site but wasn’t part of the class, so we were like the odd men out. But Mike had a lot of experience with power tools, so he was really helpful in showing them what to do,” Steve says.

Led by UC English Instructor Beverly Brannan, the course requires participation in the two-week blitz, along with reading, writing and classroom discussion – all emphasizing to a community of learners that not only were they now a part of the university community, but they were also a vital part of UC’s commitment to the community surrounding campus.

In one of his essays last year, Steve wrote, “More than anything, I’ve helped reaffirm what teachers and parents alike have always preached to me – that life and community are not just what’s in your front and back yard…

Honors Scholars Becky Engle and Kelly Camp steady and level a wall.
Honors Scholars Becky Engle and Kelly Camp steady and level a wall.

“This Habitat project brought about a new concept, or way of thinking for me. I was sent to some place unfamiliar with people I had never met before and to use skills I was not even sure I possessed. When you strip away everything familiar, the role of community becomes glaringly apparent for all to see.”

Steve says he was a regular volunteer as a student at La Salle High School, fulfilling required hours for community service. As a UC Cincinnatus Century Award recipient, he performs 30 hours of community service each school year as part of his scholarship commitment. But his first experience at UC was also the first time he had ever taken part in building a Habitat home. That was what interested him in the course. “I thought learning how to build a home would be really interesting. And, it was nice to be able to meet and get to know some people before you actually started class.”

Steve Williamson

Steve says his field of study, engineering, is a tradition in his family, and in fact, his grandfather graduated from UC’s electrical engineering program. He adds that it was UC’s tradition of cooperative education that led him to the university. UC is the global birthplace of co-op, one century ago. As the university celebrates that milestone, Steve is sending out resumes to start his first co-op experience during winter quarter.

At the UC/Habitat construction site, volunteers are now working Saturdays, side-by-side with future homeowner Megan O’Malley, who committed to 500 hours of “sweat equity” before purchasing the home with a 20-year interest-free mortgage payable to Cincinnati Habitat for Humanity. This year’s building partnership is sponsored by Fifth Third Bank and the Messer Construction Company, with support from University Dining Services.

For more on how to volunteer with the UC/Cincinnati Habitat for Humanity partnership, check the UC Center for Community Engagement Web site.

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