Articles Conservation People & Places

What SAHC has meant to me

5 January, 2022 3 min reading
Emily Painter, Engineer in Training, Oregon, USA

What SAHC has meant to me

Let me tell you, standing on the roof of Porto Cathedral, at the very top of one of the tallest hills in the city, gives you a view like no other.


The city sweeps out before you, the red-tiled roofs stretching to the horizon and the glittering river with its gorgeous bridges winding through. You are in the midst of a bustling city, yet so removed from it all.


Little did I know, a year ago when I started the application process for the SAHC master’s program, amidst the throes of a pandemic, that a year later I would find myself standing at the top of a cathedral wearing a high vis vest and hard hat and asking questions about the cathedral’s new roof structure.




I first heard about the SAHC master’s program from one of my professors at the University of Vermont where I completed my bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering.  I have been passionate about old buildings and structures since I was a little girl and visited Okehampton Castle in England with my family.


Once in university and studying structural engineering, I wanted to be able to combine my two passions, and the SAHC master’s fit my goals perfectly. And as far as I can tell, it is a completely unique program focusing on how conservation and structural analysis can work together to ensure the well-being and proper care of our valuable and vulnerable heritage structures.



The course itself offers a huge variety of intensive lectures in the mornings on a huge range of topics (and we’re only in the second module so far!), followed by lab work or group assignments, or field trips in the afternoons. One of the most exciting trips so far was the Porto Cathedral trip I mentioned earlier.



We were given a tour of the internal and external works to the cathedral chancel to stabilize the roof vault and stabilize materials and decorative elements on the inside. And it wasn’t just a tourist trip where you get a peek at the works from afar – no, we got to go up the scaffolding elevator to the roof and crouch under the ceiling vault next to the gilded ceiling medallions while expert craftspeople explained and demonstrated the processes. It was a truly unbelievable experience.



But the coursework and field trips are not the only important and exciting parts of this program. The people are incredible too—both my fellow students and our professors.


The program pulls professors and students from around the world with varying experiences and expertise and creates this collaborative environment where we are all here to learn and teach and learn some more.


This group of students is the most motivated and passionate group I have ever learned with and I could not have asked for a better set of colleagues for this program and, I am sure, many years to come.



But, for those of you wondering if this is just another program where all anyone ever does or thinks about is studying, don’t worry, we have a ton of fun too, inside and out of the classroom. We are a small group, but what we lack in numbers, we more than makeup for exciting plans, group dinners, weekend outings, and birthday celebrations.


We recently had a celebration dinner for Canadian Thanksgiving where all 12 of us gathered (with extra friends) for an amazing evening of turkey, laughs, and games. And let’s just say, the photo says it all.