Service projects aim to build better lives
Spring break “workcations” are providing an opportunity for students, alumni, professors, and friends of Virginia Tech to come together, roll up their sleeves, and make a tangible difference in developing corners of the world. College of Architecture and Urban Studies Dean Jack Davis founded these service projects as valuable contributions to the college’s long-standing commitment to student learning, discovery, and engagement abroad.
Service abroad trips through the college are faculty led, student designed, and constructed with alumni support and involvement.
In 2009 and 2008, the college coordinated their first two service abroad projects with Peacework, a nonprofit organization in Blacksburg, Va. Peacework helps alleviate conditions of poverty and promotes peace and prosperity through economic development partnerships and service around the world.
The 2009 spring break trip was coordinated through the college and the Office of the Vice President for Alumni Relations. Tom Tillar, vice president for alumni relations, Davis, a group of professors and students from the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, and university alumni traveled together to Punta Cana — a municipal district in La Altagracia, the easternmost province of the Dominican Republic. An area known for its white-sand beaches, Punta Cana is a popular tourist destination. Over recent decades, many workers have migrated to the area to help build the resort hotels, or to work in service positions in the resorts, and end up living in squatter villages well beyond the views from the balconies and landscaped terraces of the resorts.
William Galloway, associate professor of architecture in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies; Joseph Scarpaci, professor of geography in the College of Natural Resources; and Korine Kolivras, assistant professor of geography in the College of Natural Resources, visited Punta Cana in 2005 with a group of students on a study abroad trip to map the community of Verón. At that time, the professors asked the students to suggest possible projects that would have the greatest positive impact on the community. Among the students' suggestions was the need for a playground for the children of Verón. Peacework Director of International Programs Heather Burke visited Verón in September of 2008 and found that the Verón Primary School would be a good site for a playground. The Virginia Tech design team then sought input from the residents, including schoolchildren, at the Verón Primary School. View a slideshow of the children’s drawings of their desired playground.
Dean Bork, associate professor of landscape architecture, led the design of the playground. He worked with fourth-year and graduate landscape architecture students in his studio. With their plans and materials in hand, Bork and the group constructed the playground in one week. “The enthusiasm of the children on the last two days, as they could see the playground taking shape and when they finally got to scramble all over it, was overwhelming,” said Bork. “But, even more profound for many of us was the gratitude many of the parents expressed as they arrived at the end of the day to pick up their kids.”
Virginia Tech also has a relationship with the Puntacana Ecological Foundation and its Sustainability Center in the Dominican Republic. Participating students stayed on-site at the Sustainability Center, which is located on the grounds of the Punta Cana Resort and Club.
The College of Architecture and Urban Studies is planning now to return to the Dominican Republic in 2010 to build an outdoor classroom for the Verón Primary School.
- For more information on this topic, contact Heather Riley Chadwick at (540) 231-2108.
During the 2008 spring break, a group coordinated through the Myers-Lawson School of Construction visited Bella Vista, Belize.
Projects there included the design and construction of a water distribution system that included a new line for water to run from a tower to the school, four new water storage tanks, and protective masonry structures for the tanks. Read more.
Photo gallery from the service project
Drawings by Verón Primary School children in Punta Cana
Look through previous Spotlight stories