Solar-powered tiny house on wheels
Remy Oktay '23 outside of converted bus.

“It was an experiential learning process,” says Remy Oktay ’23

Remy Oktay ’23 has accomplished a major life goal he set for himself: converting a used vehicle into a livable space. Oktay, majoring in engineering studies and environmental studies, converted a retired upstate New York school district school bus into a tiny house on wheels. He installed solar panels on its roof to power appliances and electronics in a bold display of resourcefulness, sustainability, and imagination.

Remy Oktay '23 inside of converted bus.

Remy Oktay ’23 inside his converted bus

He took his gap year when COVID-19 hit and poured his energies into the bus project. Oktay bought his bus last fall from New York Bus Sales, a bus dealership in Chittenango, N.Y., which sells traded-in school buses that are in excellent condition and are, on average, 10 years old. “It’s perfect for a tiny house project,” says Oktay, who outfitted his bus with a queen-size bed, countertops, cooking area with a sink, shower area, fridge-freezer, couch, composting toilet, and storage area for two bicycles.

Installing the commercial-grade solar array on the roof provided the real challenge. “They’re really big, about 8 feet by 4 feet wide. And they’re meant to be mounted on flat surfaces, not a curved bus roof,” Oktay says. “It’s a very serious issue in terms of geometry, because you have to get two flat planes to intersect with the curved roof in a way that is structurally sound and can withstand the lifting force generated by traveling down the highway.”

Eventually, he found the right hinges and mounting rails, and machined a series of aluminum brackets and bolted them together. “It was an experiential learning process,” says Oktay. “It’s also about owning something, paying for it yourself, and really feeling invested in it.”

Swing art installation
Student Kristen Steudel '22 sitting on a swing in front of Lafayette College's Kirby Hall of Civil Rights with sunset in the background

“Swings are super fun! They are a great way to take in the outdoors and relax with friends between classes,” says Kristen Steudel ’22.

Oktay is partnering with fellow engineering student Kristen Steudel ’22 to create an art installation on campus with the goal of helping the campus community enjoy the outdoors, connect with nature, and boost feelings of happiness and joy. On April 3, they will install 12 swings in trees around Lafayette’s campus. 

“Swings are super fun! They are a great way to take in the outdoors and relax with friends between classes,” Steudel says. “We hope they will bring people together around campus and help people enjoy the fresh air. They are for the enjoyment of the outdoors and for helping students refresh their thoughts.”

It’s a collaborative effort: Oktay and Steudel invited campus groups to participate. More than 45 campus organizations decorated the swings, and students are helping with the installation of the swings, plus adding solar-powered nighttime lights to them.

a series of wooden swing seats stand upright, each is decorated with writing and colorful drawings

Swing seats decorated by students from different campus groups.

“I hope the project brings joy to many lives and brings together campus in a celebration of the beauty of life and Earth,” Steudel says. “Swings have been a great place for me to think and I hope that having them installed in a place like Lafayette where new ideas are constantly flowing through hundreds of peoples minds will instill inspiration for many.”

Oktay adds: “Earth Day in my mind is all about creating that feeling of protection and love for our planet. As we had various organizations come to decorate the swings, I noticed a few instances where after significant time was spent by an individual, they became quite protective of their work. It’s exactly this idea that we werestudents hold decorated swing aiming for, where we can get people to protect something they love by buying into an idea and contributing their personal expression. We hope that that will now translate once the swings are up around campus, to people protecting and caring for them. We see this is a microcosm for Earth Day in that the swings facilitate a new connection with nature and trees, and students will then begin to see beauty in them in a new way, protecting them with a little more might as they move through their lives.”

Categorized in: News and Features, Sustainability