September 18, 2014

Every day after returning home from St. Luke’s Episcopal Day School, Elizabeth Kissner and her friends made a stop at Villa Del Rey Elementary School as they walked their dogs around the neighborhood.

The public school had a shiny, new playground, and Kissner and her friends spent hours outside after school instead of sitting indoors watching TV or playing video games like many of their friends.

Those memories were made possible by the LSU Community Playground Project, a program to build child-designed playgrounds in schools spearheaded by LSU Cliff and Nancy Spanier Alumni Professor Marybeth Lima. Lima, who is a professor in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, has taught BE 1252 since 1997. The class has a service-learning component that requires students to work with local public elementary school children to design and create playgrounds in their schools.

Villa Del Rey Elementary School was one of LSU Community Playground Project’s first playgrounds, and the organization’s mission has come full circle for the young girl who spent her early years playing there with her friends. Today, Kissner is a College of Engineering graduate and a BE 1252 alumna. She and her classmates helped design the playground at Wildwood Elementary School, giving neighborhood children the same opportunity for outdoor play that Kissner enjoyed as a child.

Lima explains in her book, “Building Playgrounds, Engaging Communities,” that a school playground does more than give back to the children who attend the school; playgrounds glue communities together. Kissner, for instance, did not attend Villa Del Rey Elementary School, yet she and her friends came together with other neighborhood children to enjoy the school’s LSU Community Playground Project facility.

Kissner, a 2014 LSU biological engineering alumna, said BE 1252 was one of her favorite classes because it was rewarding to give back to the community in which she grew up.

“You don’t even realize there’s a need. Then someone walks up to you and shows the need, and you want to help,” Kissner explained. “Sometimes you need someone to show you where the need is.”

That’s where Lima comes in.

“I want people to feel like they can accomplish extraordinary things by doing ordinary things together,” Lima said. “My students are so committed to making the world a better place.”

Lima’s passion is infectious, and she encourages LSU students to do their best inside and outside the classroom, Kissner said. In addition to working with the children on the playground design, Lima also requires her students to meet with the children throughout the semester and help them with their reading.

“She is the coolest person I have ever met” said Kissner. “She has a lot of drive, she knows what needs to get done and how to teach you to get it done, which is exactly what an engineering professor should do.”

Kissner said many of her LSU College of Engineering classes revealed the importance of engineers in the community.

“That’s another reason I love engineering: there’s always something behind everything you see. It makes much more sense once you understand how things work,” said Kissner. “The playground class reflected that mission. You have no idea how much work goes into things you see every day.”

A fourth-generation LSU graduate, Kissner always felt drawn to the purple and gold. However, at first she had difficulty picking a major to cater to her many interests.

“When I first came to college, I didn’t think I’d be able to find my passion, but then I found the biological engineering department,” she shared. “It has math, it has science, and I even studied history for my minor. I got the education at LSU that I always wanted.”

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Article by Danielle Kelley, LSU College of Engineering communications intern. For more information, contact Mimi LaValle, 225-578-5706 or mlavall@lsu.edu.

 



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