February 26, 2010

When the students at Brusly Elementary School decided they wanted a new playground, they began selling raffle tickets and hosting other fundraisers. Dr. Sheila Goins, assistant principal at Brusly, wrote a grant proposal to the "NFL Play 60" contest, part of the National Football League's campaign to get young children more involved with fitness. Voters from more than 20 states averaged 2500 votes daily for Brusly Elementary School. In December, the students learned they had placed second in the contest and would receive the $10,000 grant. The new Brusly Elementary School playground has been designed by the students of Brusly Elementary, and Dr. Marybeth Lima of LSU's College of Engineering.

LSU senior Nicole Walker is one of the team leaders working on this massive project, under the direction of the Brusly students and faculty. Walker, a New Orleans native, now studies biological engineering after changing her major from architecture nearly one year ago. She discusses the experience of being a leader on this project, "We asked the principal, teachers, and students what they would like to see in the design. I then took those ideas and created preliminary designs that were possible with our budget."

There were numerous community members and associations that contributed to the playground funds. West Baton Rouge Parish school board paid for all of the playground safety surfacing materials. Randal "Blue" Gay of the New Orleans Saints donated an autographed football, jersey, and tickets to be used for the raffle.

Brusly students' input was integral to the design process and they offered plenty of suggestions and ideas, and then voted on the final plan. The playground will include spiral slides, monkey bars, swings, a rock wall, numerous climbing structures, and a merry-go-round.

One month after first discussing ideas with Brusly Elementary, the final playground design is complete and the team has selected a building company. Construction will begin on March 12 and take two days to complete, thanks to an incredible team of volunteers. Builders include Walker and volunteers from the Brusly High School Key Club, LSU biological engineering alumni, LSU Biological Engineering Student Organization, Tau Beta Pi, LSU Honors College, LSU student government, Engineers Without Borders, community members from East and West Baton Rouge parishes and a host of other organizations.

"This is not for a grade. It's more than just for class or for work. Serving is really important to me. Our hard work will make these children at Brusly have a more enjoyable school experience," comments Walker.

Lima is no stranger to community outreach. Her incredible talent and presence in the community has won her numerous awards including the 2007 Thomas Ehrlich Faculty Award for service-learning. She was a Fellow of American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) and a recipient of the LSU Distinguished Faculty Award. Lima's latest project was co-editing a book entitled The Future of Service-Learning: New Solutions for Sustaining and Improving Practice.

After receiving her doctoral degree from the Ohio State University, Lima has dedicated her career to teaching biological and agricultural engineering and designing playgrounds for children. Lima has designed and built 18 playgrounds in conjunction with the Baton Rouge and surrounding communities.

Walker is not sure if she wants to build playgrounds after earning her engineering degree, however Lima, who is known for designing interactive environments, inspired her to become an engineer. Lima taught Walker's first engineering class. "She's great and really fun," Walker claims, "You can see how much she cares about the work that she does and that is really inspiring."

Walker is hoping to work in either the biological engineering field or biological medical field after graduation. "I might even work in bioenvironmental engineering and build wildlife habitats," Walker says, "That's very similar to the Brusly playground project. Designing a wildlife habitat is just like designing a playground for animals." Whatever she does, whether it be building playgrounds for children or animals, Walker will change someone's life for the better through engineering just like her professor, Dr. Marybeth Lima.

 

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Article by Crystal Jackson, College of Engineering Public Relations Graduate Assistant, 225-578-5706, mlavall@lsu.edu

 



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