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The House That Patriots Built
Students Reinforce Learning,Help Family in Need

Rosie Mastrolia is forever grateful to The University of Texas at Tyler.

But it’s not for a quality education or a great job opportunity. She is thankful to the students and faculty of UT Tyler for building a safe home for her 3-year-old son.

Last fall, students in the College of Business and Technology’s Department of Construction Management partnered with Habitat for Humanity of Smith County for a service learning project. Habitat is an international non-profit organization that works to provide affordable homes to low-income families. Ingersoll Rand, formerly Trane, provided funding for the project and UT Tyler provided the labor.

During the semester, construction management students organized work teams from campus, planned work schedules, calculated material needs and worked many hours to complete the first Habitat solely implemented and constructed by UT Tyler volunteers.

Ms. Mastrolia and her son were the recipients of the new home.

“It feels like I have stability . . . like I have no worries,” the single mom said. “Before, we were living in a little one-bedroom, one-bath house. Now the space is probably double what we were living in before. And my mortgage payment is a lot less than the rent I was paying.”

But most importantly, Ms. Mastrolia said she has a safe place to raise her son. “Where we lived before was not safe. It wasn’t really somewhere you wanted to be at night. Now the neighborhood is so quiet and the area is safe.”

Junior Tim Ballard, a construction management student who worked on the home, said, “We got to help a family in need and it gave us a good opportunity to experience a real world job.”

Sophomore Jerilyn Davis said working to provide a home for this family was not only rewarding, but also very educational. “This is a hands-on way to understand what we do in the classes,” the construction management major said. “We are learning about estimating, scheduling, foundation, structure. Everything (at the Habitat home) goes hand in hand with what we are learning.”

Dr. John Martin, professor of construction management, said service learning, or tying a service project to curriculum, is an effective way of reinforcing classroom instruction and preparing students for actual job scenarios.

“I’ve always felt like tying the students back to the real world is so important in construction because it’s something you can’t memorize. You can’t memorize your way out of this business,” he said. “While these students won’t actually be doing (craft labor) for a living, it is nice to get their hands dirty and see how it is done. This experience will make it easier to manage crews.”

The construction management program, launched in fall 2007 at UT Tyler, prepares graduates for a professional career of leadership in construction industries. Students learn how to manage and oversee the construction process on all levels from start to finish.

Universitywide Effort
The Habitat team included 32 construction management students from three different classes. “But while the house was a project for the construction management students, many students, staff and faculty members worked on the house—the baseball team, girls basketball team. We’ve made this a universitywide project,” Dr. Martin said. “Our students have comprised the workers and the management. It’s a big effort and challenging.”

UT Tyler senior Thomas Browning was coordinator of staffing for the project. “A lot of student groups and organizations wanted to do community service. I helped facilitate the volunteers and did a lot of scheduling for groups on the weekends.” Browning and his peers recruited volunteers by hosting on-campus barbecues, through newspaper ads and via emails and web information.

Timothy Wilson, a construction management junior, said students did everything from raising the walls to framing, roofing, siding, painting and more. “It helped things click for a lot of people.”

The construction management team worked during class time each week throughout the fall and often on Saturdays as well. Students handed over the completed home to Ms. Mastrolia in December.

Diane Hubbard, project manager for Habitat of Humanity, said the construction of the UT Tyler house went a little faster than a normal project “because there were more people working on it and because as construction students, they have an idea of what needs to be done.”

Ms. Hubbard said, “I believe it is important for the students to know how to build a home before they can manage other people who are building.”

Jack Wilson, president and chief operations officer for Habitat for Humanity of Smith County, said the students worked hard on the home and he hopes Habitat has a continuing relationship with the UT Tyler construction management program and other volunteer groups.

“Working on a home opens your eyes to the substandard living conditions where some people live. You are working side by side with the family on the home. And it gives you a sense of accomplishment, that you are doing something good with your time.”

More Projects to Come
Dr. Martin said service learning projects will continue to be part of the construction management program. He said the department plans to involve students in at least one big community project per semester as well as campus projects. For example, they hope to build a chimney-style barbecue by Harvey Lake for use by other student groups. “And we are in the planning stages of traveling to Yellowstone National Park in the summer to work on park building projects,” Dr. Martin said. “We have even discussed going to Galveston to help rebuild in disaster areas.

“We are trying to build a culture that creates leadership, professionalism and autonomy,’’ the professor said. “We are also trying to build philanthropic character in these students. We want them to be professionals who give back to the community. I hope they’ll volunteer to help community service organizations wherever they go with their expertise.”

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