||Hokies work together in international service
In March 2009, the Alumni Association joined with the College of Architecture and Urban Studies (CAUS) to sponsor a service project abroad, extending a helping hand from the Hokie Nation to build a school playground. The project, which took a week to complete, enlisted volunteers from Virginia Tech's alumni, students, and faculty. The site was the primary school of Verón in the Dominican Republic. Verón is near Tech's Caribbean Center for Education and Research, located in Punta Cana, a municipal district in the easternmost province of the country. A few years ago, Virginia Tech established a partnership with the Caribbean Center for Education and Research. The center serves as a base for Virginia Tech faculty members to conduct research and instruct Tech students in biodiversity, environmental and social sustainability, global issues of natural resources, and hotel and tourism management. Faculty and students also take full advantage of the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation to study local natural resources.
Because of the area's bountiful natural resources and white sand beaches, a number of resorts recently have sprung up there, attracting many construction workers and hotel service personnel in search of job opportunities. The settlements of these workers are strained by rapid growth, forcing many to live in squatter villages under poor sanitary conditions. In addition, the schools are severely overcrowded and have inadequate and understaffed facilities. Seeing these problems, Tech architecture professors researched possible projects that would have the most profound impact on the community. Among the suggestions was the need for a playground for the children of Verón.
In 2008, the college coordinated its first service abroad project with Peacework, a nonprofit organization founded in Blacksburg that helps alleviate poverty and promotes peace and prosperity through economic development partnerships and service. Heather Burke (international studies, French '03), director of international programs for Peacework, visited Verón in September 2008 and determined that the Verón Primary School would be an ideal site for a new playground since none of the area schools had playgrounds.
Tom Tillar, vice president for Alumni Relations, and Jack Davis, dean of CAUS, promoted the service opportunity to all alumni and to students in the college. The result was a total of 19 volunteers, including two alumni representatives from Peacework. For this year's project, the university and Peacework were assisted with financial support from the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation and the Punta Cana Bavaro Rotary Club.
The Virginia Tech design team sought input from the residents, including schoolchildren at the Verón Primary School. Architecture faculty members Dean Bork and Bill Galloway led the design of the playground, working with fourth-year and graduate landscape architecture students. Bork and Galloway were also part of the group that traveled to Verón to build the playground in six days. "The enthusiasm of the children on the last two days, as they could see the playground taking shape and then when they finally got to climb all over it, was overwhelming," said Bork. "But even more profound for many of us was the gratitude expressed by many of the parents as they arrived at the end of the day to pick up their kids."
Some project participants stayed on-site at the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation Sustainability Center, located on the grounds of the Punta Cana Resort and Club. Alumni stayed on the resort property and dined with the students and faculty for all meals. The students were studying architecture or landscape architecture. Alumni degrees represented varied fields, ranging from biology, sociology, and human nutrition to building construction.
The Alumni Association and CAUS are planning to return to the Dominican Republic in March 2010 to build an outdoor classroom for the Verón Primary School and an observation tower for the Ecological Foundation lagoon preserve. When more details are available, information on the 2010 service trip will be posted at www.alumni.vt.edu/serviceproject.