Stillwater News Press

November 14, 2012

WONDERtorium official selected as a Paul Harris Fellow

By Chase Rheam
Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — An Oklahoma State University architecture professor explained an annual overseas trip that he and students took to Europe during this week’s Stillwater Rotary Club meeting.

Professor Jeff Williams spoke to the group about a trip sponsored through OSU for architecture students.

“Every summer, the school of architecture takes a group of students over to Europe,” he said. “We have a program that’s based out of Versailles, France, and we’ve been running since 1981.”

He described the nine-week program which shares facilities with the French School of Architecture located in the stables of the Palace of Versailles.

“Students live with French families,” he said. “We immerse them in the culture there and they get to really live like a European family would, in addition to learning about the architecture of the area, traveling through the region.”

Williams described several components of the trip including the requirement for students to keep a set of journals.

“This is sort of a personal record of the trip,” Williams said.

Students also do research in the journals and complete drawings for their projects. Williams said they don’t spend much time in a classroom. Projects include looking at churches and open spaces. Students also have time for an independent study component that they plan before the trip.

“We get out and walk a tremendous amount to take them to various locations, to share things with them, to expose them to things they wouldn’t find on their own,” Williams said. “This was the first summer that I had a student carry a pedometer. I’d never really measured how much we were walking.”

By the end, they had clocked 500 miles in a six-and-a-half week period.

William’s daughter, Sara, went on the recent trip. She also spoke at the meeting.

“I went over with a group of seven other students,” she said. “We got to know each other very well. I was one of two girls who went over on the trip and it was a really good experience going with the school of architecture. It made a big impact on what I was able to do. They provide you with a lot of opportunities and I went to a lot of places that I don’t think I would have been able to discover on my own.”

Williams’ daughter showed her sketches from the trip and said she and the others grew as a result. Those sketches are on display at the Donald W. Reynolds School of Architecture from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday

However, another member of the Williams family took the podium Tuesday.

WONDERtorium Programs Coordinator Debbie Williams was surprised to learn she had been selected a Paul Harris Fellow. Rotarian of the Day Billy Wallace presented the honor.

“I just came to watch my husband and my daughter give a speech so I was taken off guard when Billy asked me to come up front,” she said. “I had no idea.”

The honor is given “in appreciation of tangible and significant assistance given for the furtherance of better understanding and friendly relations among peoples of the world.”

Williams said she believes that idea stretches over to the WONDERtorium.

“One of the special things about the WONDERtorium; we talk about it as a type of town square because you meet a variety of people from different walks of life, different economic levels,” she said. “And the common denominator is children and watching your children play and it becomes a place, and we’ve seen this evolve in the past year, where parents who may be struggling with a 2-year-old who’s throwing temper tantrums, they come in and see another 2-year-old throwing a temper tantrum and suddenly, you have a friend for life because you know what that parent is going through.”

Said the idea can extend to parents in other situations.

“We’re there to inspire curiosity for a lifetime and it’s all that, but I think when you look at an award like this and it talks about friendly relations among peoples of the world, this is really an opportunity to serve our community in a different way,” she said.