Alumni Spotlight

Our Alumni Make A Difference

Ecosa Alumni Make A Difference in Our World! Our alumni enter the job market as change agents with an ecological design perspective and group collaboration skills that allow them to pursue a variety of career paths and ideas across the world or in their own backyard. Here is a sampling of what some of our alumni are doing.

Darcy Everett, Program Manager

darcy everettFirst of all I would just like to say that I miss Ecosa and think about you often! I have been working at Bluegrass PRIDE for almost two years now – which I can’t really believe. At PRIDE, I manage a program called the Live Green Lexington Partner program. I spend most of my days working with businesses and apartment complexes to help them start recycling programs, improve the water quality that is running off their property, and increase energy efficiency. I feel that I use the knowledge and experiences I gained at Ecosa everyday!

Although I am not doing design in the sense of architecture or interiors, I feel that I design ways for our Lexington businesses and apartments to think more about how they impact their local environment. We have been heavily involved in two watershed festivals here in Lexington trying to bring awareness to the fact that EVERYONE lives in a watershed and we work a lot with public events in Lexington to help them reduce their footprint. It has been a great learning experience! I definitely speak highly of my experience at Ecosa to everyone who will listen!

Nancy Chan, Landscape Designer, HEWITT, The University of Washington, Seattle, WA

slider3I came to Ecosa to learn more about the relationships between sustainability, design, and community. As a graphic designer, I knew I wanted to get involved with sustainable design but was unsure how to take that leap. Ecosa was invaluable in providing a comprehensive framework to understanding the various systems in our natural and built environments. The lessons I learned at Ecosa deepened my consciousness of the social and environmental inadequacies present in our modern lives. I had gained exposure to a variety of careers in sustainable design and since then, I have decided to pursue a masters degree in landscape architecture. I’ve spent the past year freelancing in Portland, OR and San Francisco, CA and will be moving to Seattle this fall to begin the masters program in Landscape Architecture at the University of Washington! I’m looking forward to studying LA and its role in building an ecological democracy– where community participatory design and ecological literacy come together to create healthy, sustainable environments.

Nick Aster, Founder & Publisher, Triple Pundit

Ecosa Alumni Nick AsterIt’s been almost 10 years since my Ecosa experience and it was very much the foundation for my passion for sustainability and systemic thinking. While at Ecosa, I was interested in using my media experience to communicate the ideas I was learning.  In particular, I sought to reach audiences who might not be instinctively receptive, like the business community.

Hunter Lovins was a guest lecturer who, over whiskey at Prescott Brewing Company, helped solidify the idea in my mind that business could be a “part of the solution” and not an obstacle to building a better world.  In particular, the idea of balancing economic, environmental and social priorities became something of a mantra of mine and I subsequently enrolled at Presidio Graduate School to seek an MBA in Sustainable Management.

Fast forward a few years later and I managed to put my learning and passion to good use with the launch of – a media platform devoted to promoting the idea of the Triple Bottom Line to a business audience.  Over the past few years we’ve built an audience of over 300,000 monthly readers ranging from folks working for major corporations to small business people to new, conscious entrepreneurs – all looking to use the power of business to positively address environmental and social issues.

Matt Coffey, Sustainable Design/Build, South Mountain Company, Vineyard Haven, MA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the fall of 2014, the South Mountain Company fielded an inquiry about reducing the carbon footprint for a 50 acre West Tisbury, Massachusetts property led to a journey of exploration – and a surprising result. A plan was proposed to reduce total energy use and improve the efficiency of two historic structures. Opportunities for renewable energy production were also reviewed. When existing roofs and ground mounted system options were ruled out, we concluded that the property was not going to be a good fit for solar energy.

We asked the owner if any future construction was anticipated. She noted that there had been some discussion of a multi-purpose barn on the property. We suggested that they consider a barn sized to accommodate the appropriate amount of panels to serve all the electrical needs of the property and to essentially make the property a net energy producer.

The owner agreed.

The program included a private art gallery, a kitchenette, a woodworking shop, a greenhouse and a bathroom under a roof with 35kw of solar electric panels. The building was to be flexible, efficient and robust with ample daylighting.

After several early massing investigations it was concluded that a clear span, single story timber frame barn structure was going to be the best match for the anticipated use of the spaces and the required roof area for the solar array. Large doors, wall hanging space, proper lighting, expressed structure, unfinished surfaces and a casual relationship to the outdoors were essential elements. The composition of these elements was to be determined.

During the early stages of design it was decided that the greenhouse would be heated exclusively by solar energy. A unique system of heat storage was designed and executed by the SMC Energy dept. using simple fans, high performance glazing, 1500 gallons of water and a super insulated shell. We have closely monitored the performance of the greenhouse and on the coldest nights of the year, this passively heated space has maintained adequate growing temperatures for the plants within.

The project became an opportunity for each department of our company to bring their best efforts to the table and collaborate alongside our most trusted consultants. Soaring scissor trusses, massive redwood doors, an engineered day lighting strategy and the most sophisticated bi-modal energy system we have designed were all executed to the highest standard of design and construction.

The 3200 SF barn was completed in January 2013, but the real story of this project has only just begun. Over the course of the last year, a flourishing outdoor vegetable garden has been added, the workshop is in full swing and various installation art pieces have been added. We are following the evolution and use of the building and it’s relationship with the surrounding landscape. It has becomes an integral addition to the eclectic mix of elements found throughout the property.

Son of a Cape Cod contractor, Matt Coffey grew up as a carpenter’s apprentice. After Wentworth’s BARC program he worked in Boston before moving to Martha’s Vineyard. He established a base for professional development as an associate in an island architecture firm. Through the Martha’s Vineyard Vision Fellowship he became a LEED-AP and pursued a diverse sustainability education at The Ecosa Institute (Spring 2009), The Glenn Murcutt Master Class (Australia) and with the Biomimicry Guild (Costa Rica). Buying an SMC-built ‘Zero-Net Energy Home’ in 2010 (where he lives with his wife Christine and two children) was followed by a career shift to the design team at SMC. As an Island Housing Trust board member and through his design work he is focused on the immediate issues and legacy of our islands built environment.

Ken Long, ESD Consultant, dsquared Consulting, Adelaide, Australia

ken long- jumping in austrailiaGreetings from the “Land Down Unda”!! Australia is where I am currently undergoing my next big adventure after my wonderful and pretty much life changing experience at Ecosa during the Fall 2010 semester! What brings me to the land of kangaroos, koalas, emus, and dingoes?? I will be transferring to the University of South Australia, pursuing a Masters of Sustainable Design.The program is very interdisciplinary, taking in people from architecture, industrial design, and communication majors, looking at sustainability from all angles of design, not just architecture, which pretty much is how I view design now after Ecosa and also how I hope to approach holistic regenerative design =)

Other than in school, I’ve also been trying to get involved with local organizations that focus on creating a sustainable world. I’ve begun making connections with in a small organization called the Adelaide Sustainable Building Network, which aims to connect designers, builders, engineers, and community members who are either interested or strive for sustainable design. Through this network, or forum, these people can connect with professionals in the building industry knowing they have an understanding the project will have sustainable focuses. I’ve also been in contact with a man who does permaculture landscape design in the area, trying to maybe get some hands on experience with him, and maybe also to help out doing designs as well. So a lot of meeting people with their own grassroots movements and helping with the cause as of right now, but I’m still just 3 months into my time in Australia, so still getting my bearings.

I do miss being at Ecosa. Just went on a 6 day road/camping trip to the Center of Australia to see Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock and other things around there. Made me miss the desert that much more just seeing the marvelous colors at sunset again, there is just something magical about it isn’t there. Anyway, I thank you guys for the great time I had in Arizona.

Marissa Matsler, Postdoctoral Research Associate at Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Corvallis, OR

Marissa MatslerI was recently accepted into the Urban Studies PhD program at Portland State University, and was awarded an IGERT (Integrative Graduate Education and Research Tranineeship) by NSF. My interest and acceptance into this program is directly related to my time at Ecosa, where I was first exposed to the joys of working in an interdisciplinary group, realizing the power of integrating different backgrounds and points of view.

Our Ecosa group in 2006 included a linguist, an engineer, a river-raft guide, a bull-rider (well in his past life :)…), a biologist, an architect, a carpenter, an artist, a raw-foods ‘baker’ – all interested in improving the urban condition and making human lives more sustainable.

When I came to Ecosa, I had just graduated with my BS in Marine Biology and I felt trapped in the “scientist” box. I wanted to be a green architect and I didn’t know where to start. Ecosa provided an opportunity to experience and experiment in a field different from my basic training and gave me the confidence to pursue my “green’ dreams. Throughout the program, I learned about many different fields of study, and realized that I didn’t actually want to be an architect. My skill set was better suited for the world of urban planning and policy. And that distinction was incredibly important moving forward in my life.

After Ecosa, I jumped around alot, back into my “scientist box” doing field work and teaching outdoor education. Eventually I ended up in Connecticut, teaching on a tall ship. While there, a familiar name from Ecosa came up in conversation with the sustainability community I was getting to know in the area. Stephan Kellert, I discovered, was teaching at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. My boss encouraged me to check out the master’s program and meet with Kellert and other green building and planning experts.

Upon visiting Yale FES, I fell in love with the program, the ideas, and the people. It was an unexpected surprise – with my west coast upbringing I did not think I would fit in the east coast ivy league experience – but FES was decidedly different. I completed my Masters of Environmental Management in May of 2010, where I studied the social and economic impacts of wave energy on the Oregon coast, as well as stormwater and wastewater infrastructure.

Ecosa began me on the path that I am forging today. It is not a well-traveled path, like the one I was on before I came to Ecosa. Instead, I am making my own way, working in-between disciplines and combining a variety of experiences.

Specifically, I will be studying decentralized urban stormwater infrastructure, both in Portland, OR and abroad – a topic first introduced to me by Brad Lancaster during my Ecosa semester. That field trip inspired my quest to learn as much as possible about stormwater and wastewater treatment here in the states and I have studied many different techniques for the wet landscape of the Pacific NorthWest since I left Arizona.

So, all in all, life has been going well since I “graduated” from Ecosa! Just got married last summer to a theoretical physicist who is teaching at Western Oregon University. It’s great to have an interdisciplinary marriage – he really adds alot of insight to my work.

Glad to hear that Ecosa is expanding into so many new avenues!! I hope to come and visit one of these days as I miss the beautiful high desert.

Jesse Froehlich Savou, Rainwater Systems Designer

Spring 2006 Ecosa alumna and Davis, CA native Jesse Froehlich Savou thinks everyone should be able to harvest rainwater, so she set out to make that possible, founding BlueBarrel in 2012.

The Guerneville, CA resident developed her first system in 2010 as an AmeriCorps project with Conservation Corps North Bay at the Indian Valley Organic Farm & Garden located in Novato, CA. Her assignment was to build a 1,500 gallon rainwater catchment system with a budget of only $1,000. Jesse and project partner John came up with what ended up being the prototype for the BlueBarrel System, using 22 food-grade plastic barrels and associated hardware in a narrow corridor next to the farm’s greenhouse.

The system immediately proved workable, and Jesse decided to install one at her home in Sonoma County… and then another… and then a third! With a few tweaks each time, Jesse refined what became known as the BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System™—now available as BlueBarrel’s DIY RainKit™ for you to install at your own home, school, or farm.

The original farm project is still functioning, and the largest of the systems Jesse has completed to date is a private residence with 42 barrels that irrigate a 250-square-foot vegetable garden. BlueBarrel now offers the tools and resources for successful home-installation experiences for rainwater harvesters everywhere!

Jesse’s system can be ordered at her website, Components can be ordered separately, and costs are limited. (All information borrowed with permission from

Cait Larson, Associate Architect, Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture, Chicago, IL

cait larsonI will be attending Illinois Institute of Technology in the Fall. My focus will be on maximizing passive solar heat gain in small buildings. Its more of a challenge to use solar heat gain in cold dark climates, like where I live. Right now I’m studying current design methods for passive strategies, and locating problem areas for further research.

I’m doing an internship in Munich, Germany at the moment, at a firm called Hild und K. It is one of the most reputable architecture firms in Munich, with their work visible in many prominent parts of the city.  There are about 15 people in the office.  They treat me wonderfully, and have a lot of faith in my abilities.

I live a healthy, responsible life here, using my bike or public transportation, eating food grown locally or from just over the mountains in  Italy. Very few people drive here, and when they do, the cars are tiny.

Bikes and pedestrians take precedent. After taking trains through the German countryside, I noticed every other house had solar panels on the roof, and the horizon was specked with industrial sized wind turbines. My firm uses day lighting, operable windows in place of air conditioners in even the largest of their buildings, and enjoys flexible designs for long-term use.

My education at Ecosa certainly allowed me to get a better sense of what exactly I wanted to pursue. It is easy to say you want to be an eco-designer, but with the sheer number of issues out there, it is much harder to stop yourself from wanting to fix every problem and just go for one or two. I will continue to spread the word.

Corwin Mandel, Eco-Desinger

I am still very grateful for all the teachers at Ecosa, and am working to apply all that I have learned.

I am continuing to work with Roger Asay through the Limited Residency program at Prescott College. For my senior project this semester I designed and built a timber-frame greenhouse for a client. I used wood that was harvested and milled in my area, the insulation is made from recycled denim jeans, for the foundation I made a rubble trench from rocks in the region, and made the rock stud wall with stones I found.

For the other part of my senior project I built a wood-slab bar for a new healing arts café which will serve healthy tonics, provide healings and have conscious night life.

To cap off my over-done senior project I worked with Ra Paulette sculpting sandstone caves and learning his philosophy on art.  While I was working with him, the documentary about him and his work called “Cave Digger” was nominated for an academy award.

I am now finishing up some school work for some other classes and preparing to go on a long walk about. My first destination is volunteering at Portland Oregon at the Village Building Convergence. I have been in communication with Mark Lakeman and am going to most likely be working with him for some time after the Convergence. I will then walk up the Ashland, Oregon to work with SunRay Kelley on some of his latest natural building projects. My next plan will be to backpack down some of the Pacific Crest Trail to Nevada where I will experience Burning Man for the first time! I have already volunteered to work on some art installations there a few weeks before the event. After that I am either going to Costa Rica to work on building an Ecovillage on a friend’s family land or backpacking across New Zealand. My plan is follow my inspiration giving where I can and receiving what comes. I will be targeting Ecovillages, spiritual communities and people and places that I find uplifting, taking note on places to come back later to and settle for a while. Most of my destinations I will get to by walking and on the occasion hitching a ride.

Mindy Otto, Executive Director

Mindy is the Executive Director of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve (YDWP), a grassroots environmental conservation 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to preserving and protecting the Yellow Dog River Watershed in Northern Marquette County, Michigan.

Pollution is a threat to the watershed, but right now Northern Michigan’s local waters are some of the cleanest in the country considering that 55% of U.S. waters are unsuitable for aquatic life (EPA 2013). The surface water in this area is considered “Excellent” quality and the topography in the area is gorgeous. Yet, Michiganders face the threat of toxic heavy metals pollution that could be caused by the only nickel/copper mine of its kind in the country right in Mindy’s backyard called the Eagle Project, which will begin extracting ore this fall.

The story of the Eagle Project is about a multinational conglomerate mining company promising big profit and jobs to an economically struggling community for a short period of operation with grave threats to the environment and human health in the meantime. YDWP and countless other organizations have been “fighting the mine” since 2003 and are currently in litigation with the State of Michigan over the validity of the mine permits with the National Wildlife Federation, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, and the Huron Mountain Club. Aside from the mining issue, YDWP also has other programs that focus on watershed-based work. YDWP provides environmental education, monitors water quality on rivers, lakes, and wetlands, and purchases land for preservation.

Mindy also spends time watering her seedlings for a garden this spring, and practicing aerial silks.

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