Student Forums
A journal of social practice & professional engagement for the Antioch community
 

Welcome to The Fuel-Free Frontier: Austin Rinebolt-Miller ’17 at GoSun Stove in Cincinnati, Ohio

The only scent in the air was a campfire somewhere. I remember feeling surprised that, although I was in my kayak and paddling offshore, I was aware of the burning of wood. Pelicans and ibises soared overhead. With outstretched wings and an enviable confidence, they let the warm breeze cushion their wings as they swooped toward their destination–a small island inhabited only by them. I had to work hard against the waves and wind, which were meeting me head on. Ahead of me, atop a “No Wake” sign, a perching Osprey looked disinterestedly in my direction. Beyond him was the island where the sea birds have been relegated to nesting, ever since someone’s idea of progress brought a condominium development to the land the birds had occupied for millennia. I doubt they were ever compensated for the real estate robbed of them. I marveled at how peacefully the bird species coexisted and yearned for the same amongst our primate relatives. As I looked back towards the docks at all the high rise condos, I tasted the salt as waves caught me off guard and splashed in my face. I imagined it was how Prometheus felt soon after he caught the first scent of wood smoke.

Working for a solar oven company has got me thinking about climate change much more than I normally would these days. Although Professor Kim Landsbergen’s Environmental Science classes offered a good introduction to ecological issues, the real learning comes from being able to recognize on a day-to-day basis how our actions are contributing to environmental change. Too many people are afraid to change their own behaviors, and it is that resistance to change that has brought on The Inevitable Change. As I circled around the bird island back towards the condos, I imagined the scene 50 years from now: I saw the green groomed lawns, perfectly placed palms, and cookie-cutter condos submerged underwater with the birds once again looking for a new home.

Welcome to the Fuel-Free Frontier!

Patrick Sherwin, the social entrepreneur behind GoSun, called me on my cell phone and woke me up from a nap one afternoon near the end of Fall Quarter of 2014. At first I ignored the unknown number, but he called back and I realized it was from Cincinnati, I picked up. Patrick introduced himself: “Hi, this is Patrick from GoSun,” a phrase I learned to love, hearing heard it nearly a hundred times since I started the job. He seemed impressed with my cover letter as well as my work experience and our conversation diverted into a lofty criticism of top down corporate hierarchies. I felt confident with my performance during the interview, but he told me he’d call within a week from the day he called me, to let me know if I got the job. I waited, and waited, and waited, until I finally got the call. I have to say that I was thrilled to land the opportunity and excited about the prospect of experiencing what life in a city was like for the first time.

Welcome to the Metropolis
I grew up in a rural part of Ohio. When I moved to the Village of Yellow Springs to attend Antioch College, it was my first experience living within the boundaries of a municipality. I thought Yellow Springs was big. Now I was going to be living in one of largest metropolitan area in the state. Although my family had some connection to Cincinnati in the 1800s, my ancestors left for the sweet agricultural plains of Northwest Ohio. I had to admit I had no schema for what living within the confines of a city would be like.

My only knowledge of GoSun Stove was what I could glean from the website. People would ask me what I was doing and my answer was simple: “working for a solar oven company.” That answer at first illustrated my lack of understanding of the job, now it is a proud declaration of my involvement in subverting the dominant paradigm.
The first day, I met the other intern Wes on the porch of what was soon to be our palace for the next few months. My boss Patrick showed up shortly after I did, and he gave us our first tour of the house. It was a nice three story house painted gray with a porch swing. It had an unimposing for sale sign in the front yard. The house to the right of it was identical. I moved into the attic room, which was small–a little den at the top of the stairs where all is quiet despite what’s going on downstairs. I borrowed a futon from a current student’s parents in Cincinnati and the other intern gave me a bookshelf. I hung up posters of Antioch and surrounded myself with my things to make it like home.
One surprise was that there was no heat to the attic and I soon found myself freezing. I reached out to alumni and the Bickett family dropped off a few blankets to stay warm. An alum, Jill, from ’93, gave me a blanket she knitted herself. Although I was far from home, I am so pleased to say that from day-one I had a system of support.

I had originally reached out to alumni on a Facebook page to find friends in this city, in which I found myself alone. Angie and Tom Hester graduated in 1995, a month before I was born. They have two lovely children and a nice home in the town of Wyoming, twenty minutes from my attic bedroom. I soon became friends with them, rekindling their interest in Antioch and assuring them that it was still a place where nonconforming and radically fun people can find a home. We are now great friends and eat lunch together frequently. We talk about Antioch a lot and there seems to be numerous similarities between their Antioch of twenty years ago and mine of today. They credit their co-op experiences with having the most formative impact on their lives. They too found themselves in cities all alone, and they too found alumni who were willing to help. I am grateful to be a part of an extended community of Antiochians who are always there for current students, helping them with some of the same co-op struggles.

First half of the Co-op: Blue Ridge Chairs
My first month at GoSun was somewhat overwhelming. I elected to do data entry for the company’s database. I entered names and emails from business cards for nearly the entire month. My closest colleague at that point was a canvas chair from Blue Ridge Chairworks, the owner of which I would meet later in my co-op in North Carolina. January taught me a lot about the world of office work. I found myself struggling with staring at a computer screen all day and began questioning if I was fulfilled by the work.

I saw my first returns from all this hard work when I learned how to use MailChimp. MailChimp is an online tool for organizing mailing lists and sending out mass newsletters. When all was said and done, I had entered nearly 2,000 new contacts into our system. At that point I moved into setting up a the communication system and realized how effective it would be for so many more people to be kept up-to-date with our new innovations and advancements. I learned that seemingly meaningless computer work could add insurmountable value to the work of a company. I also reminded myself how on my cover letter I made clear that I wasn’t afraid of grunt work.

I soon learned how to package and ship solar ovens to all of our buying customers. I worked closely with the head of fulfillment, Ben, and together we sent out more than 300 boxes. It was eye opening to be on that end of the process, as we often take for granted that the products we purchase are nicely packaged and sent without damage. It is fulfilling to know that I had a hand in spreading the joy of solar cooking by ensuring that all the pieces were in place and packed carefully.

Second half of the Co-op: A Frigid February Then a Spring Adventure
February was cold–too cold–but March brought about a true Antioch Adventure! I had never been outside of Ohio for more than a week prior to my business trip with the GoSun team. I had never seen the ocean, the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, or even a mountain. So my boss’s decision to include me as a videographer on a planned trip south made for one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I saw new ecosystems, amazing plant species, and creatures I had never seen before, including alligator, pelicans, ibises, ducks, and more.

I saw condo life for the first time and caught a glimpse into lives that are so far removed from my own that I experienced some level of culture shock. Nevertheless, I also came to understand the impact that condominium developments and other markers of progress have on climate change. The reason that GoSun and my colleagues are in the sustainability business became very real for me. I thus through all my energy into filming promo footage for a proprietary prototype that will constitute the basis of an upcoming Kickstarter campaign. I can’t reveal any of the details until our Kickstarter drops but I will say that the idea of cooking without consuming energy is exactly what this planet needs. I’ve had a life changing adventure capturing such ideas on film and and it was all thanks to Patrick Sherwin and GoSun! I feel like a new person because of this opportunity!

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