Success Stories

Engineering housing work honored

Green House on Watson

A collaboration between Grand Valley State University's School of Engineering and Westown Jubilee Housing that helps create energy efficient housing for low-income families won the 2009 Carter Partnership Award for outstanding campus-community partnerships. This campus-community partnership was recognized June 18, during the annual Governor's Service Awards at the governor's Lansing residence.

The Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Partnership Award for Campus-Community Collaboration is given bi-annually by Michigan Campus Compact to one partnership involving a Michigan college or university and a community group with the $10,000 prize divided equally between the campus and community partners for working together in exceptional ways to improve people's lives and enhance learning in the process. It is Michigan Campus Compact's most prestigious award.

The Grand Valley State University School of Engineering and Westown Jubilee Housing partnership centers on energy efficient housing for low-income families living in the west side of Grand Rapids. This partnership, in existence since 2001, is a collaboration in which Westown Jubilee provides a supply of housing projects with energy management needs and challenges and the School of Engineering provides innovative solutions for those challenges. Within the partnership, engineering students and faculty provide leadership and labor to enhance the energy performance of these homes. It benefits community members directly and it also provides an opportunity for engineering students to become better citizens by using service as an education tool.

Even though engineers frequently deal with cold, hard numbers, Professor Shirley Fleischmann spends a lot of time teaching her students that their work shouldn't be cold-hearted. This award proves that engineering can do really nice community service work, she said.

One of the collaboration's greatest achievements was the construction of the LEED-certified Green House on Watson Street. In that project, more than 70 engineering students helped build an exceptionally energy efficient six-bedroom home for a low-income family. This year, a group of senior engineering students is doing a capstone project on a house on Indiana Street, not far from the Green House on Watson. The students are helping turn the one-and-a-half story house into a two story house. The prize money will help improve that project.

"The students are doing some work on the house, but they also have been acting as advisors to the Westown Jubilee Housing board and volunteers to try to make that house as energy efficient as possible, " Fleischmann said. "And we've been doing it with very limited funds, so walking away with $10,000 is really helpful. In today's housing economy it is difficult for Westown to do this kind of work and it does force us to make very careful decisions."

The award money will help install solar hot water and insulation wrap on the house, Fleischmann said. "The student team did a great job of helping Westown prioritize where money should be spent first. We really wanted to have solar hot water, the award makes that a possibility -- and we would set up a way to study how effective that is. "

"Some engineering classes -- such as heat transfer courses -- lend themselves naturally to working on homes for project work. I've been using these as course projects. It's worked out very well, " Fleischmann said. "As we gather the data, we make it available, and I have such wonderful venues to make sure the information reaches the audience that needs to have it -- the general public. "

Faculty and students are able to monitor the energy use at the project homes, and in the process have compiled valuable data on how to make homes perform better without spending a lot of money -- information that is important to the entire community.

"Because of the Green House project, I have made great connections with the U.S. Green Building Council and local contractors," Fleischmann said. "I'm getting asked to talk to real estate agents, I'm being invited to neighborhood associations. People are really being able to benefit from what we have learned by working on houses on the west side. This is exactly how a university with an urban campus should interact with the neighborhood around the campus -- using our expertise to enhance the quality of life of the people who already live there and investing time and energy to build relationships and also value into our neighborhood. "

The partnership between GVSU and Westown Jubilee Housing was among three finalists vying for this award. A selection panel composed of representatives from community, higher education, business, and government organizations selected the four finalists and the winner. The committee is independent of Michigan Campus Compact, the organizers of the award. The committee made its selection of the three finalists based on the combined merits of each program and gave careful consideration to how closely the program applicants matched the award guidelines. Michigan Campus Compact (MCC) is a coalition of college and university presidents who are committed to fulfilling the public purpose of higher education. It promotes the education and commitment of Michigan college students to be civically engaged citizens, through creating and expanding academic, co-curricular and campus-wide opportunities for community service, service-learning and civic engagement.

by Brian J. Bowe

This story was filed with the tags: Awards, Engineering, Helping the Community