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Rancho Cielo Construction Students Win International Sustainability Competition

We’ve been celebrating a BIG win this past month — an incredible team of construction students from our local nonprofit partner Rancho Cielo took first place at the inaugural Orange County Sustainability Decathlon (OCSD) on Saturday, October 14. The international homebuilding competition brought a tremendous opportunity for the students to showcase their ingenuity and hard work on a major stage.

In what is already becoming known across Monterey County as a Cinderella story, the students punched well above their weight as the only vocational school — and the only competitors working toward a high school diploma — against top universities from across the United States, England and China.

Rancho Cielo is a comprehensive learning and social services center for underserved and disconnected youth in Monterey County. The nonprofit offers students hands-on vocational training as well as pathways to complete their high school education in partnership with John Muir Charter Schools.

The team’s selection into the competition came with a $100,000 grant to be used for construction of the home. Rancho Cielo leadership then raised an additional $400,000 in cash and materials, with substantial contributions donated from local industry partners.

The result: an 845 square-foot, two-story, modular home designed with a zero-carbon footprint and able to operate fully off the grid, using a wide variety of innovative technologies and high-quality green materials. Aptly named Nexus_01 — the home honors the impressive community who came together to support the students’ success.

Pete Scudder

Scudder Roofing and Solar president and founder *Pete Scudder served as committee chair of the Rancho Cielo Construction Advisory Board, whose members generously donated funds and supplied their expertise, knowledge and experience for the project and included Carmel-based EcoLogic Architects founder and former Rancho Cielo instructor Thomas Rettenwender; Bill Hayward, CEO and chief sustainability officer of Hayward Lumber and founder and CEO of Hayward Score; Rancho Cielo CEO Chris Devers; Rancho Cielo Founder and retired Superior Court Judge John M. Phillips. **Other notable supporters listed below.

The students demonstrated incredible perseverance through this process — and the 11 who made the journey to Southern California continued to attend class every day of the three weeks they were at the competition with a teacher who joined them there.

The 60 students from Rancho Cielo’s Construction and Sustainable Design Academy, who make up the Nexus_01team, have personal stories drawn from difficulty ranging from incarceration and homelessness to hunger and poverty. Rancho Cielo creates a place of what CEO Chris Devers often describes as “hope and opportunity” for them, so they can have a fresh start, a new path, and the opportunity to dream of something better.

Through Rancho Cielo’s innovative project-based programs and vocational training, these students have access to a world of learning and skill-building in a safe, supportive community that believes in their potential and where possibilities can become realities.

Feeling the Win

After 18 long months of dedication and collaboration following the global pandemic, this win is that much sweeter for the Rancho Cielo team and their supporters and advisors. Judges were particularly impressed with the Nexus_01’s thoughtful design and environmentally friendly building materials — the state-of-the-art cork insulation was a “favorite” — and called the project a “standout” with a concept that was “executed flawlessly.”

They also complimented the attention paid to the team’s graphic communications and marketing plan, which included an integrated marketing plan for selling the home as well as educating the public about the benefits of sustainability.

Across the OCSD’s 10 categories, Rancho Cielo students garnered five first-place awards (in Architecture & Interior Design, Sustainability & Resilience, Lighting & Appliances, Health & Comfort, and Energy Efficiency) and three second-place awards in Communications & Marketing, Engineering & Construction, and Innovation.

When lead student carpenter Josue Cisneros was handed the award, he immediately thanked the OCSD judges for the opportunity and Rancho Cielo’s own Judge Phillips for his support. “We are thrilled to receive this award,” he said.

Cisneros first started in Rancho Cielo’s Ag Technology & Mechatronics program before finding his home in the Construction and Sustainability Academy. In an interview earlier this year, he shared how “cool” it was to see the project get started, “to go from talking about it to doing it,” he added.

“The true heroes here are these students,” said Ed Bennett, Rancho Cielo’s construction instructor who oversaw the students, upon the announcement that the team had won top place overall. “Most of them had no construction knowledge before the competition, and they took on this project in the last six months, learning everything from construction to sustainability. And for them to come through, this [win] is for them.”

Bill Hayward echoed Bennett’s enthusiasm. “Winston Churchill once said, ‘We shape our buildings and later they shape us.’ And this competition has changed the lives of these kids. I’ve watched it happen,” he said at the awards ceremony.

“They’ve learned sustainability, architecture, understanding, building and working together, and the intricacies of construction,” he added. “And we also brought health into the environment; we think that health and healthy indoor environments are a part of architecture and interior design, and it is a really exciting project for us all.”

Building a Sustainable Future

The Nexus_01 was first built at Rancho Cielo and then carefully disassembled and trucked down to Costa Mesa, California, for the competition, which played a big part in the modular design. The winning home has since been taken apart in sections and transported back to Salinas.

On campus, it will be reconstructed as the first in a series of healthy, sustainable and affordable Nexus homes in a multi-unit eco-housing village for employees on campus — and built by Rancho Cielo students.

The OCSD competition has already produced positive changes and opened new opportunities for our students, like increased attendance, better grades, and more funding for Rancho Cielo programs, including a three-year grant for 2023.

What’s more, the skills the students learned during this entire process will open doors to even more employment opportunities as well as secondary education scholarships. To meet California’s ambitious climate-friendly housing goals by 2030, there will need to be a workforce, which these students are now a part of, that can build homes that are healthy, energy efficient and sustainable.

“This [opportunity and win] will help attract students to the campus, to be involved in something like this program,” said Scudder.  “When these kids graduate with these skills, there will be people who want to hire them because they have this experience building a sustainable, healthy home. It’s a whole different standard of construction — airtight, clear air ventilation, off-the-grid with solar power and a battery backup system. And that’s not something everyone in the construction industry can do.”

In addition, the home these students have designed and built together is a living, breathing demonstration of their hard work and determination. It’s more than just a building; it symbolizes their potential for growth and positive change. They can reach out and touch the results of their labor and see a concrete reflection of the fresh start they have embraced at Rancho Cielo.

If you are interested in touring the Nexus_01 home for yourself, we invite you to attend the OCSD Nexus_01 Celebration at Rancho Cielo Youth Campus, 710 Old Stage Rd, Salinas, on November 9, from 3-6 p.m. For more information, visit and

*Scudder Roofing & Solar donated all of the roofing and solar materials for the project, and nine of our dedicated employees traveled to Orange County to help during the competition. Products and materials included a Title 24 standing seam metal roof, TufDek walkable/recyclable PVC membrane for the walk deck, 18 Maxeon solar panels (a 7.5kW system), two Enphase battery backup systems, and a SPAN Smart Electrical Panel.

**Other notable collaborators and supporters of the Nexus_01 team and project include:

  •  Nexus_01 Project Manager, Laura Cowan Higuchi
  • Don Chapin & the Don Chapin Companies
  • Lopez House Movers
  • Duke Kelso Construction
  • Clyde Sailer
  • Dee Tile
  • Carmel Stone and Marble Imports
  • Palmer Electric
  • Guardado Landscaping
  • Rick Della-Mora
  • Mark LaLiberte
  • Monterey Energy Group
  • Brad Moser
  • Zac’s Trucking
  • Larry Wasserman
  • Monterey Energy Group
  • LC1 Productions
  • Levi Eiko Designs


Rancho Cielo Construction Students Win International Sustainability Competition October 30th, 2023Scudder Solar