Big Green Bus launches new trip

by Kelsey Flower | 10/2/14 8:12pm

After an unplanned hiatus, the Big Green Bus will return in a new form next year. Instead of driving a biodiesel-powered bus, participants will travel across the country via public transportation, staying with alumni as they have in past years.

The bus trip originally planned for summer 2014 was cancelled when the bus broke down at the end of 2013. Trip organizers said they did not have enough time to make an informed decision about whether to buy a new bus or fix the current one before the next trip needed to start preparing, so the program paused to determine next steps.

Meegan Daigler ’14, who was the 2013 bus general manager, said several Big Green Bus alumni and current students — totaling more than 100 — spent the year discussing changes the program could make.

There were semantic as well as practical reasons for the program’s pivot this year. When the Big Green Bus started in 2005, running a bus on vegetable oil was a novel idea and presented a challenge, but that is no longer the case, Daigler said.

“We reached a point where the vehicle itself wasn’t facilitating the experience as much as the students who are planning where we are going and what we are trying to learn in each of those places,” Daigler said.

Daigler believes that using public transportation, such as Amtrak trains, will facilitate the same learning experience for the students involved.

“One of the coolest parts about it is the challenge,” she said. “So now there’s a new challenge of where can you get on public transportation, what is that experience like for all the people in the different places that we visit.”

In addition to changing the mode of transportation, the mission of the trip is changing from teaching to learning. In 2013, Big Green Bus participants focused on storytelling and understanding other communities.

“It can get kind of tricky for students to go to different communities thinking they can educate them on their resources and what their actions should be when they’re not from those communities,” said Elise Wien ’17, who hoped to participate in the 2014 program before it was cancelled and is helping organize next year’s program.

Maximizing participants’ time factored into the decision to change the program’s structure. The bus broke down frequently, and participating students spent time making repairs, as well as getting commercial drivers licenses. Funding, which has traditionally come from corporate sponsorships and advertisements on the side of the bus, will have to change this year, Daigler said.

They group held a meeting on Sept. 25 where 30 students expressed interest in participating.

They then met on Thursday to finalize this year’s application. They based it off of past years’ applications, but shortened it so that students would not be deterred by the length.

In addition, they had to rework the application to reflect the program’s new model and criteria. For example, it is no longer important to have participants who know how to repair an engine or have specific expertise with biodiesel. This year, organizers hope for participants who excel in not only engineering but also communication and environmental justice, among other areas.

The program’s big changes have the potential to prompt strong student reactions.

“My first reaction was that they are losing the group home that you travel in, the community space that you get to share,” said Cedar Farwell ’17, who wanted to be a part of the 2014 bus trip.

Farwell is not planning on participating on the 2015 bus trip because he plans to take classes sophomore summer, but is still involved with the organization and may want to go on a bus trip in the future. He said he does believe there are benefits to taking public transportation as well, namely that limited mobility will present interesting challenges.

“If they do a good job documenting their travels, it could be incredibly illuminating in comparison to the bus experience,” he said.

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