College Senior Lives Outside in Hut for School Project — With Parents’ Blessing


Dylan Miller, 22, has his parents’ support on his senior project, which entails hunkering down out in the Pennsylvania woods for nearly a year. (Photo: AP Photo/Michael Rubinkam). 

Juniata College student Dylan Miller didn’t have to convince his parents to let him live outside in a hut for the last 10 months for his senior project — his father, Bill, came up with the idea. “My dad sort of suggested it in passing,” the 22-year-old from Meadville, Penn., tells Yahoo Parenting. “He was joking but I took it literally.”

An English and philosophy major, Dylan says he has been interested in the work of naturalist poets Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson since he was a kid, and that his campus’ location near woods in Huntingdon, Penn., offered an accessible way to test out living simply. So once Dylan’s 21-page proposal, entitled “Content with Nothing,” got the green light, the senior moved into the forest, about a half-hour walk from the school.

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“He wanted to see how he could live minimally and still kind of maintain a lifestyle that worked in the contemporary world,” Will Dickey, Dylan’s academic adviser and an assistant professor of English, tells the Associated Press. And as his mom, Amy Miller, tells Yahoo Parenting, “Well, basically this whole year embodies what Dylan has really been working towards in his young life so far. Since he was quite young, he has always been drawn to nature documentaries and survival shows on TV. While young, he built a rather impressive ‘fort’ in our woods with his friends.”

This time, Dylan built his own 17-by-17 hut from fallen timber, insulated it with leaves, and threw on a tarp for a roof. He lugs in gallons of water and uses a latrine. Meals consist of rice, beans, and dried soup.

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Yet when his parents came to visit and spent a night sleeping over in the hut with him in October, Dylan says they were “comforted after they saw it wasn’t as thrown together as they thought it would be.” 


Photo: AP Photo/Michael Rubinkam

But mom Amy did worry at times. “She would text me every time the weather would get back to being cold or if thunder was on the way,” says the student. “Obviously they were concerned about me, but they were generally very supportive through the whole thing, and didn’t have any major issues.”

Perhaps that’s because the Meadville, Penn., couple has been here before with their son, the youngest of five. “They let me live in a cave last year,” he reveals. “I didn’t want to live in the dorms anymore so I slept in a hammock at night when it was warm, and when the cold weather came I moved into a cave where I’d sleep at night.” The couple did encourage him to get an apartment off campus first, and tried to help him find one, but Dylan says, “I said, ‘No, I want to do this,’ and they said ‘Alright, if that’s what you really want.’”

“It’s not that they don’t care about what I do,” he continues, “They were obviously concerned but they know that I have been interested in exploring this and they wanted to let me do that.”

They are, in fact, quite impressed with Dylan. “He was determined to make this thing work. We’re very proud of him,” Amy says. “ I wish I had both realized a dream and acted on it at his age!”

Being supportive is a smart move, according to parenting expert Sharon Silver. “This experience shows a teen, who developmentally usually has a pretty self-focused point of view, a much wider, broader point of view that he’ll be able to rely on for years to come,” says the educator. “He most likely now knows what he’s truly capable of, what he must have to survive, and understands that the rest of the ‘stuff’ is a choice, not a necessity.”

And for his folks, Miller says, considering the cave dwelling he’s done, “The hut is actually a big step up.”

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