By Amaka Udeji
North Lake News-Register Staff Writer
Meet Joel Weber.
The onetime NLC student has become an internet and TV show sensation, thanks to his creation of an affordable dorm replacement for UT students.
Weber, 26, credits NLC’s “Sustainable Campus” culture with planting the first seeds of his eco-friendly mobile cabin. He also cites two NLC professors as vital mentors.
It’s no surprise that the green-intensive designer was born on Earth Day, April 22.
Weber began his time at NLC while he was in high school during his junior year as a dual credit student. NLC was the perfect fit for him not only because of its convenience of location, but also because of its “Sustainable Campus” culture.
While laying the foundation for his degree, he fell in love with the idea of ecological sustainability, which involves finding the simplest route to coexisting with nature without interrupting its natural process. This was initially what he wanted to pursue, so because of the absence of the particular program of study, he ended up committing to an associate of arts.
“I became a design major because I want to leave the world in a better place than I found it,” said Weber.
He fulfilled this at the NLC North Campus by designing an original, student-constructed garden located at the center of the campus. He truly lives by the phrase, “never say never,” because that is only true until it is done. After completing his associate of arts degree, he took a few gap years to refocus himself, further discovering his true purpose. Then, he began his road to internet stardom.
Weber went on to University of Texas at Austin where his cost of tuition nearly quadrupled, leaving him stuck between a rock and a hard place. Still determined to complete his educational goals, he cut costs everywhere, which meant picking up a few odd jobs along the way, including "manny," lifeguard, landscape designer and substitute teacher.
Even with the additional income, he still felt there was more that he could do. This prompted him to bring one of the ideas he had brewing in his mind to life in form of a 145-square-foot dorm replacement.
He put his skills to work and invested a mere $15,000 to take the average cost of living for UT students and turn it upside down. He and his tiny house on wheels are now famous and have been featured across various avenues, such as HGTV, Yahoo and Target.
“Pursue yourself in life as much if not more than academically, because after that happens, your academics will thrive,” said Weber.
This has proven true for this UT Design major nearing the end of his junior year. He advises students to chase their passions because while doing so, they’ll find the best degree plan.
Joel, being the humble guy that he is, cannot credit his journey solely to himself. He continually witnesses the impact that NLC and its faculty have made on his life on a daily basis. People, such as ceramics professor Marty Ray and former mathematics professor Lee Stover, gave life to many of Weber’s fantasies. Both mentors gave him the push to propel forward in his one-of-a-kind, post-NLC education and in his life. He went on to return the favor by taking on landscaping design projects.
Chris Fulmer’s house was one of those Weber landscaped. The NLC art instructor, who is now retired and lives in Florida, taught Weber in her drawing class about six years ago.
“Joel was full of personality,” said Fulmer. “Often I had to remind him that, for safety reasons, he could not come to class barefoot. But this made him memorable and lovable.
“He was happy with a positive attitude and felt connected to the earth and the environment. His drawings of abstracted birds in flight reflected hthis interest.”
Fulmer said that Weber researched environmental friendly solvents and like it b est when she chose organic vegetables for still lifes.
“Life is about the betterment of self and constantly defining a new better,” said Weber. ”Don’t let where you think you are supposed to go keep you from where you are supposed to be.”
Weber would have never thought to his 18-year-old self that he would be in the place he is now, with the nationwide social media platform he has now.
Sometimes detours evolve into even better destinations.