The Maria Paula Survilla Living Classroom, an interactive memorial to the beloved professor who died last year, is set to open on Oct. 9, the Homecoming weekend. 

The idea of an outside classroom was planned by journalism and communication professor Dr. Penni Pier and associate professor of science education Dr. Michael Bechtel. After the death of Survilla, Bechtel and Pier decided to honor their colleague by naming the classroom after her. 

“That was what all Paula was about,” Pier said. “She would have fierce conversations with people that really made you think about yourself, others and humanity.” 

Dr. Maria Paula Survilla died in April 2020 of to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease at age 56.According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease is a rapidly progressive and always fatal neurological disorder. It is unclear how Survilla contracted the disease. Survilla was an ethnomusicology and musicology professor at Wartburg for 26 years. 

The living classroom will not be a traditional one. 

“It’s an outside space, there is zero technology there. There will be a concrete platform with a ramp so that it is accessible to everyone,” said Pier.

The Survilla Living Classroom will include a metal sheet to draw and tree stumps on which . The classroom will have a koi pond and tortoises. While the koi pond is planned to be completed by the opening, the tortoises are to be brought later in the academic year. 

“It is meant to facilitate discussions and tranquility,” Pier said. “It is not meant to be a classroom you would go every Tuesday at 9:35 a.m., it is meant to be checked out for class discussions.” 

Volunteers, including Survilla’s husband, Professor of Music Dr. Eric Wachmann, and their son Vaalik Wachmann, helped install local plants in the living classroom on Sept. 15. 

The plants play two roles. They are ornamental and will also feed the birds and tortoise. 

Third-year elementary education major Elizabeth Inselmann was one of the volunteers. Inselmann helped drive the golf cart around the campus to pick up and drop off dirt for an hour and a half. 

“As a future teacher, keeping teachers’ memories alive has always been something that I think is very important,” Inselmann said. “Because we forget how amazing they are and how much they make a difference in our community.” 

According to Pier, after the electrical needs of the living classroom is done, there will be another opportunity to volunteer to plant. 

“It is a really beautiful space,” Inselmann said. “I think it is important to help our community be beautiful and grow.” 

Bechtel and Pier got close to the original donation goal of collecting $15,000. The professors realized later that they would need more than the original plan. 

“To make up the difference, we received a grant from Trees Forever as well as The Virginia Burns Charitable Trust,” Pier said. 

Everyone is welcome to use the space after it opens on Homecoming weekend. For more information e-mail Pier at penni.pier@wartburg.edu or visit the living classroom in the McElroy Center courtyard. 



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