This Is How They Did It

Self-Reliance came down in two fitful days of unbuilding. True to form, the construction team showed up at 5:30 a.m to get to work. Godine, unshaven, his jeans barely clinging to his waist, stayed until the last hard hat had been tossed into the back of the Ryder truck. We spent an afternoon driving around Virginia, hunting for a Lowe’s. I asked him if he was depressed, now that the gravitational center of his life had shifted. “I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe.”

And while an emotional letdown among the Self-Reliance team is expected in the days immediately following the end of competition, there are also lasting effects that won’t be dissipating so quickly. There has been a lot of talk on campus and off about how Middlebury’s heralded, against-all-odds performance in the Solar Decathlon has addressed—and is influencing—more profound long-term questions about the value of a liberal arts education.

I recalled what Liebowitz told me in his office: “If we are to define a Middlebury education as one that challenges students outside the classroom as well as in, prepares them to enter a complex world after graduation, and then addresses the skills needed to adapt and evolve in that complex world, then we will also be defining a liberal arts education for the next century.

“I think it also shows us here, at Middlebury, what we’re capable of doing. The sense of institutional pride is not to be underestimated, nor is the value of seeing, more clearly, what is possible—for the College.”

As for the house itself, it now rests on a permanent foundation near the Mahaney Center for the Arts, with belowground geothermal tubes, and an exquisite view of the Green Mountains.

On the November afternoon it was repatriated to campus, the sky was an inkwell, not a lick of sun in sight. Three students will take up residence this spring, including Wyatt Komarin ’12 and Cordelia Newbury ’13, who, not long ago, mailed off Team Middlebury’s proposal for entry into the 2013 Solar Decathlon competition.

The odds, again, were long. Only a handful of teams—from large institutions, all—had earned back-to-back spots in the competition.

Just two days before this issue went to press, the team learned that it had been accepted.


Reporting was contributed by Matt Jennings.

Kevin Charles Redmon ’09 is a freelance journalist in Washington, D.C., and a frequent contributor to the magazine. For those interested in assisting in the Solar Decathlon 2013 effort, please contact Sarah Franco, special projects coordinator, at

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