In the fall of 2018, the McWhorter School of Building Science at Auburn University made a change to its curriculum. This change paved the way for a partnership between Third Lens Ministry and Auburn Building Science.
“The Building Science faculty revised our curriculum where we actually have a dedicated, required senior level service learning class in our curriculum,” said Scott Kramer, a professor at the School of Building Science. “So in Building Science, starting in the fall of 2018, every single building science student has to participate in what we call Building Science 4360, which is a senior level class and it’s required. It’s not an elective like a lot of service learning classes.”
The way this ties into Third Lens in that through mutual contacts, Kramer connected with Brian O’Neil, the executive director of Third Lens. The two found that the building science students could provide the construction aspect for the nonprofits that work with Third Lens, and in return Third Lens could provide options for projects the students could work on to fulfill their school requirement.
“So the way that works is every semester we have six projects,” Kramer said. “And we have 60 students total, with 10 students in a team. Each team works on a different project, and that could be something like the Curtis House in Opelika, a Habitat House, working in the AU Arboretum or the AU Preserve on North College. It could be lots of different projects.”
The students are presented proposals of what each nonprofit needs done in terms of building construction and design. The students then choose the project they want to work on for the semester and provide the construction management resources the nonprofit needs to make their plans a reality.
One of the first projects Third Lens and Building Science teamed up on was the Curtis House in Opelika.
“The Curtis house was actually one of our first projects that we started with the 4360 class,” Kramer said. “And the original plan was to build a pavilion, the Curtis pavilion, which would act as kind of a community center. Then the house, the Curtis house, was to be remodeled. Unfortunately, the house had so much termite damage, it actually had to be demolished. We basically started over. We actually finished the pavilion, and that’s in place now. Then we went back to the drawing board, per se. Brian was able to work with the nonprofit and secure the additional funding and building drawings. So we’re actually rebuilding the Curtis house from the ground up. We’ve dug the footings and built the foundations. Then we’re working on the actual house, and so that that is an ongoing project. That will probably be ongoing again in the fall.”
For Kramer, it is important for students to gain real-world experience through projects that are done during service learning courses. He has been offering a Building Science elective service learning course since 2010, where he and students travel to Quito, Ecuador for ten days and help build small projects like churches or additions to existing buildings. The last four years the class has been offered in both the fall and spring semesters. Since 2010, Kramer has taken students to Quito 14 different times.
“I think the hands-on experience is really good for the students who get to work with local construction craft workers, but the more important part is the service to others and building relationships with the community,” Kramer said. “So what I’m trying to do is plant the seeds of service in their personal life and also their professional lives.”
For Kramer, Third Lens has offered him a way to continue to help students gain service learning experience and provide help to nonprofits who don’t always have the tools they need to get the construction work going on their own.
“I think the the main challenge for nonprofits that we deal with in the Auburn-Opelika area with our 4360 class is they do not have the design and construction expertise to move their their projects forward,” Kramer said. “That’s where Third Lens comes in, using their contacts with working professional architects, designers, landscape architects and builders. Being able to tap into those people caring, wanting to help and do pro bono work for design and construction management.
“That is a great mission. That mission aligns very well with our Building Science 4360 class because our class is an academic class, so it starts at the beginning of the semester, we have midterm grades and it has to finish at the end of the semester. So nonprofits are challenged a lot by getting the design, the funding, the building permits and all of those different pieces and parts lined up where we can kind of help them with our academic piece. That’s kind of where Third Lens is invaluable, in helping me spin up the nonprofits, getting them ready to present to the students and be selected for the following semester. That’s kind of one of the important aspects that Third Lens is helping me with my service learning classes.”