Building Community in Unexpected Ways

Tech students lend their talents to helping a local animal rehabilitator.
The team working in the College of Design’s woodworking space during the squirrel box-building event. Photo credit: Thomas Bordeaux, ARCH 2022.

The team working in the College of Design’s woodworking space during the squirrel box-building event. Photo credit: Thomas Bordeaux, ARCH 2022. 

Earlier this year, Sarah Kegley, international TA program manager in Georgia Tech’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), rescued a baby squirrel from an Atlanta street and brought it to a local squirrel rehabilitator. What happened next speaks to the sometimes surprising breadth of Tech students’ commitment to problem-solving, collaboration, and community engagement.

Kegley approached a CTL colleague, design assistant Lizzie Turac, ARCH 2023, remembering that Turac had an interest in woodworking and welding. Kegley told her she had a friend who built squirrel homes every year with her husband, “for the baby squirrels she nursed until they recovered.” Now, though, the rehabilitator’s husband had dementia and could no longer build the homes, even with the plans laid out in front of him. Kegley asked Turac if she could step in and lend her woodworking expertise.

Turac was also a student assistant in the Cognitive Empowerment Program within the SimTigrate Design Lab. “As part of my role, I work with those diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment on their way to developing dementia, so I felt especially connected to her story, and immediately wanted to help,” she said. “I knew I could help her build houses, but I realized that if I reached out to my peers, I could gather a group of volunteers.”

As vice president of undergraduates for the student organization ECO at Georgia Tech, Turac had a receptive audience. Established in 2020, ECO works to bring awareness of responsible material choices to net-zero studio practices that promote environmental wellness within the design community in the School of Architecture and beyond.

She asked ECO President Emily Mosbaugh for permission to advertise and organize a squirrel box-building event through the club. “Everyone who heard the cause felt connected and wanted to help,” Turac said. They found 12 student volunteers, coordinated with the squirrel rehabilitator — who drove to the Tech campus with blueprints, a supply of wood, and a few baby squirrels — and spent the day in the College of Design’s woodworking space.

“It really was amazing how, by advertising a call to action through our club, we were able to find so many students willing to sacrifice their Sunday to help this cause,” Turac said.

The group plans to build more squirrel homes this summer, inspired by the work and the story behind it. For Turac, it’s been meaningful on many levels. “I am a very people-motivated person, and I’m always happy to unite people to work together,” she said. “It’s the community of like-minded creative people that made this interaction so special.”

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