SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Hannah Cambre, a junior at Wofford College, can sling a hammer with the best of them. She helped construct a Habitat for Humanity home in Spartanburg in December and has done construction with Homeworks of America, a Christian volunteer organization that repairs existing homes throughout the state.

Still, Cambre wanted to do more. That’s why this month she’s taking Dr. William E. DeMars’ Interim course – Build an Affordable House, Save the Environment, Transform a Community.

The 20 students in the course are working three days a week, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., on two adjacent Habitat for Humanity Houses in the Drayton Mills community on Spartanburg’s east side. “There is great satisfaction for the students and for me to contribute directly with our own work to building something as tangible as a house for another family,” says DeMars, professor of government and international affairs.

“I got the opportunity to meet the woman who will be living in one of the houses we are building,” says Cambre, a humanities major from Lexington, South Carolina. “She’s such a sweet woman and came here from Rwanda three years ago. I really loved meeting her, and it gave me a lot of encouragement to keep working hard even though it’s been exhausting.”

Cambre says she volunteered at a Habitat build in December so she could get a head start on understanding the type of work the group would be doing during Interim. “By taking this Interim, I wanted to gain relevant experience for a construction internship I’m applying for in February. I also wanted to do a project that involved really close work with a team because the relational aspect of group projects can be super rewarding. It’s easy to get close to people by spending several hours together doing hard work.”

DeMars says in addition to building a house for a local family, the Interim is designed to teach Wofford students lessons in sustainability. “Wofford students, who one day will be leaders in their communities, need to understand environmental challenges. Seeing and touching the physical environmental footprint of a simple structure makes a difference. They see how the house is made to Energy Star 3 level of efficiency, and they learn that homeowners are likely to pay one-third the cost of utilities in this house compared to what they paid in their previous rental houses – which not only wasted money, but also energy.”

The Interim also addresses the community’s need for stable families and safe housing. “Wofford students begin to realize that there’s a learning curve for the new owners, who will need to think and plan ahead on maintenance for owning their own home compared to a rental,” DeMars adds.

After the first week of the course, students already were talking about what they had learned, he says. “Students have commented to me on the learning process of swinging a hammer to drive in a #16 nail, the physical exertion and stamina required in the work and the comradery with each other and with the Habitat construction supervisors on site and other volunteers.”

Ivan Gu, a junior computer science major with minors in mathematics and physics from Moore, South Carolina, is one of many who struggled with the “simple” task of hammering a nail at first – the skill of driving the nail in straight was one that took practice, but soon the class mastered the skill and made progress. “The hands-on experiences have been phenomenal,” he says. “By the third day of volunteering, I gained muscle memory to the nailing action and found it much easier to do. This taught me that just like everything else in life, we need to keep practicing to progressively master a skill.”

Dylan Alderman, a first-year student from Charleston, South Carolina, says the Habitat Interim experience has been great. “Knowing that my labor will provide a home for those in need is thrilling. The concept of helping others, but also learning at the same time, is terrific. I chose this Interim class to support Habitat for Humanity, but also to study construction. I’m eager to learn these physical skills.”

Wofford’s January Interim frees students and faculty to spend the month focused on a single topic designed to push through the walls of the traditional classroom, explore new and untried topics, take academic risks, observe issues in action, develop capabilities for independent learning and consider different peoples, places and professional options. Students have the opportunity to study abroad; participate in local, national and international internships; conduct research; or participate in on-campus non-traditional courses.