During the last year, 10 pioneering UMass students took the road less traveled – pursuing the BCT (Building Construction Technology) Applied Learning Pathways, a new option for students to ‘study abroad’ at the Mount Ida Campus of UMass Amherst in Newton, Massachusetts.

Students worked one-on-one with a faculty sponsor to create a customized, hands-on learning experience based on their interests in sustainability. These one-of-a kind pathways built the students’ confidence and portfolios (i.e. GIS mapping, augmented/virtual experiments, original research, multi-media videos, 3D models) as they collectively pursued more than 30 academic credits toward the completion of their degrees.

“As a master’s degree student at UMass, I wanted my learning to be meaningful and to have an impact,” said Abigail Moore, B.S. ’19, M.S, ’21. “The Independent Study project I designed with my professor focused on the idea of ‘Living Buildings;’ structures that generate more than they consume – and I was able to focus on understanding how these buildings can work with the environment, when life cycle analyses of a building are considered from the beginning of the design process.” Moore’s work has now been integrated into UMass courses and also helped her land her dream sustainability job as a Project Engineer for Arch Energy.

The BCT Applied Learning Pathways initiative provides students direct access to experts and practitioners, such as Recover Green Roofs President Mark Winterer, business disruptors like Bonzer Founder Ivan Li Huang, and in-house veterans like UMass’ Campus Sustainability Manager Ezra Small and Senior Campus Planner Ludmilla Pavlova. Academic projects have focused on diverse topics such as ergonomic design, electric car ride-sharing programs, academic makerspaces, geo-located phone-app tours and greenhouse gas accounting methods.

As part of the hands-on experience, students visited nearby construction sites that prioritized long-range strategic planning and reduction in environmental impacts associated with buildings, such as a 22-acre, $1.5 billion Northland Newton Development, which is expected to be the largest passive house community in the United States when completed in 2024. 

“It is vital that today’s students emerge from their education with skills that matter in the real world, and that they understand the scale and scope of what is possible for towns and cities which prioritize sustainability and the quality of life for residents,” said Kent Gonzalez, vice president of operations for Northland Investment Corporation. “The hands-on learning facilitated by the special ‘make-your-own’ academics initiatives at the Mount Ida Campus is an important key to their success.”

Students’ academic proposals have helped to make the case for energy conservation measures and new demonstration equipment for courses and spawned new research in biophilic design and experiential learning. Students used their customized, hands-on learning experiences to create unique portfolios of their work, contributing to job offers from the Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, Consigli, DPS Group Global, Valley Solar, Delucca Fence Company, National Lumber, Plumb House, Inc., and the City of Salem, among other employers.

Courses associated with the BCT Applied Learning Pathways at the Mount Ida Campus of UMass Amherst are open to all majors.