Service with DIRT

Dismantle, immerse, reflect and transform

dirtShawny Anderson’s Jan Term students aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. In fact, the acronym they use for their service-oriented trips is DIRT—Dismantle, Immerse, Reflect, Transform.

Anderson, Associate Dean of Liberal Arts, has been leading labor-intensive trips to impoverished areas since 2002. Her 2014 Jan Term class is traveling to Brazil to plant fruit and shade trees as part of a reforestation project. But this is just part of the story. The students prepared for the trip by building an arbor and trellis for the Legacy Garden on campus.

“We got tons of volunteer help from veterans/alums of prior courses,” said Anderson, “all the way back to the first New Orleans course [in 2006].”

But the greater Saint Mary’s community also got involved. Sodexo offered help through the garden steward, Julia Welch, and the Athletic Department got a grant from Pepsi to pay for the wood.

“The materials, by the way, included all recycled wood, which means that it has this beautiful weathered look that makes it seem like it's been there forever,” said Welch. The arbor adds a focal point that invites visitors to the garden and the trellis will support six kiwi vines of five different varieties.

This is the fifth year that DIRT has worked in the garden—a seemingly perfect fit. Welch calls the space a lab for students of all kinds who’ve built a variety of structures “from an adobe oven, a composting toilet, a sign, art in the garden, and other structural projects that you don't even see.”

But for Anderson and her DIRT students, the garden has taught them more than just how to wield a hammer and a saw. It’s helped them get ready to work as a team—wherever they are called to serve.

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