Indiana State University Newsroom

Class Project: Interior design class helps build Habitat house

April 12, 2011

As Indiana State University student Billeigh Hankins busily worked on a project as part of her interior design class, another volunteer asked what she was doing.

"I was actually putting up the electrical boxes for the ceiling fans, and she came up to me and asked me what that was," Hankins said, "and she said ‘Wow, I've never had a ceiling fan before.'"

It was part of a class project that meant more than simply a letter grade.

Hankins was among a group of ISU students who volunteered to spend two Saturdays earlier this semester helping to build a Habitat for Humanity house in Terre Haute. For a class of sophomore interior design students, it's also an endeavor that has become an annual project meant to give the group experience with what they're learning in class. The group helped to level the ground around the house to provide for proper draining for rain and snow. The student volunteers also installed electrical wiring, including Hankins' installation of electrical boxes that prompted the response from the house's future owner.

"So when she said that, it just kind of hit me that we were actually doing something for someone who really appreciated it," said Hankins, a sophomore interior design major from Batesville, Ind., "so I thought that was cool."

The project started several years ago as a way to teach students more about what they were learning, said Mary Sterling, associate professor in the department of built environment at ISU. The class gets involved early on in the building process so that they do a variety of things and are involved in the "nitty gritty" of constructing the house, she said.

"So I would say they're very engaged with the total building of the house," Sterling added, "from the point of the foundation right up until the owner takes it over."

While interior design students learn from textbooks, when they do the work they're learning about, "it helps us understand it better," said Victoria Pelly, a sophomore interior design major from Fishers, Ind.

Several area colleges, including ISU and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, regularly volunteer to help build Habitat houses, said Annette Houchin, executive director of Wabash Valley Habitat for Humanity. College students volunteering for the organization are involved in all aspects of building the homes.

"When school hits, I know they're going to contact me," Houchin said, "and we get groups scheduled all the time."

Wabash Valley Habitat for Humanity builds houses for families whose incomes are between 30 and 60 percent of Vigo County's median income, Houchin said.

Families that are part of the Habitat for Humanity program pay an interest-free mortgage for their homes. Since land and materials for each house is paid for prior to construction, money paid for a mortgage is then used to fund the cost of future homes, Houchin said.

"So it's kind of a pay-it-forward program," she added.

While the ISU interior design class continues to volunteer, the effort has become more popular. The student organization for interior design students, Interior Designers Embrace Amplification (IDEA), also volunteers additional time to work for the not-for-profit. Another interior design professor, Denise Conrady, also has involved her class with working on the endeavor.

When Sterling's interior design students worked on the Habitat house in February, they didn't know much about the specifics of the project, said Kelly Shulman, a sophomore from Bloomington, Ill.

"But we got directions to the house," she added, "showed up, and it was actually lots of fun."

Students are involved much more now than when the class first started volunteering, when students would just paint, Sterling said.

"Those were in early days, so that was quite a few years ago," she added. "What we're doing now is exactly where we need to be, and it's wonderful."

Photo: (ISU/Tony Campbell)
Indiana State University sophomore Kelly Shulman shovels dirt into a wheelbarrow as ISU sophomore Billeigh Hankins also works on the project. Shulman and Hankins were members of an interior design class that in February volunteered to build a Habitat for Humanity house.

Photo: (ISU/Tony Campbell)
Indiana State University sophomore Kendra Martin guides the wheelbarrow while Taylor Valandingham pushes it. Martin and Valandingham were among a group of ISU interior design students who volunteered to build a Habitat for Humanity house.

Photo: (ISU/Tony Campbell)
Indiana State University sophomore Victoria Pelly (foreground) installs wiring in a Habitat for Humanity house as Kelly Shulman also works on the project. They were among a group of ISU students who in February volunteered to build a Habitat for Humanity house as part of a class project.

Contact: Mary Sterling, associate professor, department of built environment, College of Technology, Indiana State University, 812-237-3311 or

Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or