The Magic School Bus takes a trip to Lafayette College

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Remy Oktay ’23 poses with the school bus he designed and built over the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Remy Oktay ’23)

Lucie Lagodich, Editor-in-Chief

A small yellow school bus is parked down at Bushkill, its bright exterior standing out from the standard array of student cars in the parking lot. Once Remy Oktay ‘23 opens the door and invites you inside, it’s not just leather seats and seat belts.

With a long counter fitted with a sink, a comfortable couch, carpeted floors, a lofted bed stowed in the back and solar panels mountain on the roof, Oktay’s “magic school bus” doubles as a portable home.

Oktay took a leave of absence for the 2020-2021 academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and built the bus over the last six months.

“It felt like in a time when the world was going through a lot of change, just being able to pursue an interest of mine…It’s about the learning experience, and really getting behind owning something, and building and being responsible for it,” Oktay said. “But then also using it as a teaching tool. The whole Magic School Bus thing really rang true, that’s where the paint theme came from.”

Now on campus, Oktay has shared his quarantine efforts with the Lafayette community in a large way. This past week, he visited a classroom at the local middle school, Easton Area Middle School, to inspire young students. The bus has also been showcased as a part of a handful of sustainability initiatives on campus, including family weekend this past September.

“Over family weekend, I had ninety families come through, talking about community solar and also connecting it back to what they can do back home, because I wanted it to not just be like, ‘Hey, look at this bus that I built. But look at this bus, do you find it interesting? Look at what it’s able to do. Now how can you apply that back to your life?’” Oktay said. “I wanted to not so much be a showcase but more a catalyst for thought for people.”

The idea behind the project dates back to his sophomore year of high school when he set the post-high school goal of building a van he could live in. After further development, the idea for a van morphed into using the shell of a small school bus.

“One of the driving forces that kept me going through a lot of the tough times in the building process and setbacks was thinking about all the fun experiences that I’ll hopefully be having when I’m back on campus at Lafayette,” Oktay said. “Teaching other students about solar panels, the composting toilet, all the recycled goods in it…as well as other future projects to work on and use it as a learning tool.”

Oktay put around 2000 hours toward the project.

With two buses parked in the driveway, he worked alongside his sister, who undertook the same enterprise. Oktay’s whole family worked together through the pandemic, volunteering at a local vaccine clinic and spending their free time designing and outfitting the buses.

“We spent March through August working eight to ten-hour days, six to seven days a week, on our buses. And it was loads and loads of fun. It was a great, great bonding experience for my sister and I,” Oktay said.

Throughout the building process, Oktay spoke to the importance of how the space could be changed, and none of the installed fixtures were permanent. The bus was designed with strong ceilings and floors with various modular cabinets and furniture that could be reassembled and disassembled quickly.

“I went into it knowing this space is going to change, I want to make it be able to be changed. I want to be able to experiment here, I want to be able to try different things, and I wanted it to be a space for learning,” Oktay said.

“I’m not going to be too uptight about everything being perfect, because ideally if I really liked this, I’m going to build something else in the future that’s more of a finalized version,” he continued.

Oktay plans to utilize the bus as a method of educating students both while on campus and beyond. One dream he shared was driving it across the country the summer after graduation and stopping at camps along the way to teach students about the importance of sustainability and engage young minds in STEM at an early age.

“In a time of so much sadness and missing so many things, it was really a great project to have to work on, as well as to know that it would be able to be experienced and used and provide benefit to other people, once we got out of covid,” Oktay said. “It was almost, for me, a beacon of hope. I’m putting in this time now during this tough period for our countryour worldinto something that will be able to bring joy to people once things start opening up again, and that was really motivating for me.”