Service-learning took UGA College of Environment and Design student Alexa Haines out of the studio last fall.
Instead, her classroom was on a ladder with a screwdriver in hand, or down on the ground, shoveling soil into a wheelbarrow.
“For a standard design class it is just ‘here’s a piece of paper and it’s your site,’” said Haines, a senior majoring in landscape architecture. “This is very different. It’s exciting for us.”
Sustainability in Design, taught by Associate Professor Sungkyung Lee, took students to the Pinewoods branch of the Athens Regional Library System to refine the design of raised garden beds, which were installed by residents of the Pinewoods North Mobile Home Park, with assistance from UGA.
After getting feedback from residents, Lee’s students used recycled materials to create a rain garden with soil excavated from the front of the library, and installed benches and stone pavers around the raised beds. Chris McDowell, the College of Environment and Design’s material reuse coordinator, provided materials for the project and helped with construction.
The challenge for the students was to work within the original framework of the project and adapt designs that met with residents’ approval. The experience is one students can’t get by doing a theoretical project in a studio, Lee said.
“It gives them an opportunity to self-evaluate and rethink their design,” she said. “I’m sure this experience will definitely change how they design afterwards. I know they get a really good educational experience but at the same time we’re making real impact.”
UGA’s Office of Service-Learning has been involved with the Pinewoods community for years. The community garden was originally established by David Berle, an associate professor of horticulture. His and his students’ work there has ranged from landscaping to building tool sheds to helping residents plant individual gardens.
For students, the experience is not just one that will help them in their careers but a way to be part of the community.
“As a student I feel like this is a great opportunity for us to better the community, not just be here as a transient person — a student for five years — and then leave,” said Davin Dawson, a senior majoring in landscape architecture. “It’s really important.”
Reaction to the project was positive.
“They captured what we wanted to see out here,” said Aida Quinones, the library’s branch manager. “I loved (the designs) because I’ve mentioned before that we wanted an area for outside education. They designed exactly what we wanted.”
Writer: Christopher James