February 26, 2009

LSU construction management students have traded the traditional classroom experience for a working lab where they’re learning brick for brick and nail by nail just what it’s like to work on an authentic construction project.

Through a service-learning partnership between instructor Charles Pecquet’s CM1010 classes and Habitat for Humanity of Greater Baton Rouge, students are making connections between the construction planning process they learn about in class and the end project. By doing so, students are getting a lesson not in only building houses, but also in what it means to build a community.

Pecquet’s class is an example of service-learning – a method of teaching and learning in which students fulfill the learning goals of their academic courses while serving the community. In this case, the Habitat for Humanity construction site provides an authentic work experience directly related to the objectives of Pecquet’s class, which focuses on construction graphics. Habitat for Humanity benefits from having volunteers who are training in construction management to help build houses.

“I wanted to implement a partnership with Habitat because it makes such a strong connection with my classes,” Pecquet said. “I teach construction graphics in which students learn to draw house plans. I felt that the opportunity to look at houses in different stages of construction and be able to compare them to the plans would provide something that the classroom just can’t duplicate.”

Habitat for Humanity is currently developing a 55-home subdivision, called Rosewood, located near Burbank Drive south of campus. The construction management students have worked on the site during supervised field trips during class, in addition to contributing an additional six hours of their own time. Pecquet says that the proximity to campus has helped to facilitate the process and that his students’ response to the experience has been very positive.

“Many were excited to go to an actual job site and see firsthand the subject we were learning about in class,” said Pecquet. “I was also surprised by the reaction of many former students who, after learning what this semester’s classes are doing, asked why they couldn’t have done that when they took the course.”

Katie Paulsen, Habitat for Humanity’s volunteer coordinator, said that the experience has been great for both the LSU students and the organization.

“The students were just awesome,” Paulsen said. “They are more skilled than our general population of volunteers so the work gets done much faster and they require less supervision. Some of them will also stick around after college and hopefully will volunteer with Habitat again. A lot of the students have asked when they can come back.”

The partnership grew from an initiative developed by LSU’s Center for Community Engagement, Learning and Leadership, or CCELL, directed by Jan Shoemaker. Pecquet, who teaches the CM1010 courses, was selected by CCELL as one of 15 Service-Learning Faculty Scholars for 2008, and awarded $2,000 for course planning. Along with the other scholars, he participated in a 10-week seminar last spring to develop this aspect of his courses and formalize the partnership with Habitat for Humanity. The partnership has allowed him to expand course objectives. Now, in addition to being able to produce and interpret working drawings of residential structures, students are developing an understanding of social and economic issues related to home ownership and construction management in the Baton Rouge area.

Pecquet believes that the hands-on experience was integral to how well the students learned the material in the course, and he plans to continue the partnership with Habitat for Humanity for the spring.

“It was an extremely positive experience that provided more learning this semester than if we had remained on campus,” Pecquet said.

For more information about service-learning and the Service-Learning Scholar Program, visit the Center for Community Engagement, Learning & Leadership’s Web site at www.ccell.lsu.edu, or contact Christy Kayser, CCELL program coordinator at 225-578-4245 or ckayser@lsu.edu.

Article by Christy Kayser, Center for Community Engagement, Learning & Leadership, 225-578-4245, ckayser@lsu.edu

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