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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.

   

The entire Virginia Tech group, with the school director and members of the Puntacana Ecological Foundation and the Punta Cana-Bávaro Rotary Club, appear on the completed playground. Photo by William Galloway The entire Virginia Tech group, with the school director and members of the Puntacana Ecological Foundation and the Punta Cana-Bávaro Rotary Club, appear on the completed playground. Photo by William Galloway

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.

   

Jeff Stolz, Tom Tillar, and Carson Davis fasten a top rail. (From left) Jeff Stolz, Tom Tillar, and Carson Davis fasten a top rail. Photo by William Galloway

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.

   

Kent Hipp, David MacDonald, Tamara Davis, and Katie Huber fasten the band for a portion of the second platform as some of the schoolchildren look on. Kent Hipp, David MacDonald, Tamara Davis, and Katie Huber fasten the band for a portion of the second platform as some of the schoolchildren look on. Photo by William Galloway

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.

Service project participants

   

William Galloway, Tom Tillar, and Jack Davis at the construction site (From left) William Galloway, Tom Tillar, and Jack Davis stand near the construction site. Photo courtesy of Jack Davis

The Punta Cana service abroad project was sponsored by the Alumni Association, the School of Architecture + Design, the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech, Peacework, the Puntacana Ecological Foundation, and the Punta Cana-Bávaro Rotary Club. Read more.

2008 Belize service project creates new water distribution system for local school

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

    Schoolchildren of Verón Primary School

Drawings by Verón Primary School children in Punta Cana

    Drawings by children in the Dominican Republic

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