While this last summer consisted of galavanting around Iceland, Ireland, Scotland, and the northeast, I spent the summer of 2011 dirty, sweaty, sunburnt, and sleeping on the floor of a trailer while working with NASHI: The Native American Sustainable Housing Initiative on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

NASHI is a non-profit based out of Boulder, Colorado that works with the Oglala Lakota community and their own grassroots organization Thunder Valley by bringing together tribal students in construction and engineering as well as architecture students from the University of Colorado to work together to design and build sustainable homes on the reservation. These aren't your typical government-funded cheap homes...These are quantifiable innovations through materials, engineering, and smart design that will dramatically lower the financial burden on a community already so wrecked by poverty and unemployment and making owning a healthy home affordable and cultivating.

NASHI has been rocketed from an idea into reality by architect and professor Rob Pyatt whose mission has been to bring students out of the classroom and into communities to benefit them both. Students learn to design out of understanding and empathy and through empowerment; to build with their hands and gain valuable pragmatic construction knowledge.

My time with NASHI and Thunder Valley was cut short by my relocation to San Antonio, but I reserve a special place in all my designs for the lessons I learned during my two years working with Rob both in Boulder and on Pine Ridge, as well as the students who weren't satisfied with hypothesizing and postulating, but who will swing a hammer, who will sweat, and who will create the change they wish to see.