TSC Architecture program takes the classroom to the community

The service-learning experience for Texas Southmost College Architecture students has, over the last 12 years, fostered social responsibility, cultivated creativity and collaborative efforts between the college and various nonprofit organizations, businesses and municipalities across the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

“The TSC Architecture program exhibits an exceptional level of collaboration and partnerships aimed at prompting regional and local community development and leadership,” said Murad Abusalim, Ph.D., dean for the TSC Division of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). “Each experience gives our students extensive knowledge about urban challenges that our communities and towns face.”

Since 2009, Architecture students have worked collectively with city planning departments and local nonprofit organizations to tackle a variety of local urban issues such as the revitalization of downtown areas, master hiking and biking trails, community gardens, historical preservations and affordable housing.

Juan De Leon, TSC Architecture program graduate earned his associate degree in 2014, and before graduating worked on a community garden service-learning project with the Brownsville Wellness Coalition. He calls his experience with this project his first step toward a successful career in architecture.

“This was the beginning for me and the experience that solidified my career decision,” said the 27-year-old. “It was a unique, eye-opening experience that allowed me to grow as a person and professional in the field.”

He added that as a student experiencing the design and build process through projects like this, he learned valuable lessons that prepared him to continue his education and enter the workforce.

And because of his service-learning experience, he also garnered an internship with the city of Brownsville’s Planning Department.

“To not only gain an internship from this experience, but to also see the impact that our designs have on a community is invaluable,” said De Leon “I encourage every student who has this opportunity to take advantage of it and be involved and present so that they can grow, while giving back to their community. There’s no other experience like it.”

De Leon now holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Architecture with a specialization in urban development and works at EYP in Houston, an integrated design, architecture firm that specializes in designs for health care, education, government and science and technology.

Through these projects, TSC has grown strong community partnerships with the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville, city of Harlingen, city of Brownsville, Brownsville Wellness Coalition, Yahweh’s Farm and Hope, Proyecto Azteca, SpawGlass, LRGV American Institute of Architects and Immaculate Conception Cathedral.

Ramiro Gonzalez, director of government and community affairs for the city of Brownsville, said collaborating with TSC’s Architecture program and its students has been a win-win for everyone involved.

“TSC’s service-learning projects are something to be proud of,” he said. “Each project serves as a valuable lesson for the students and a step in the right direction for our communities. The Valley needs more of this.”

Gonzalez added that every year he is impressed with the skills, creativity and ideas TSC’s Architecture students bring to the table.

“Their design skills speak for themselves,” said Gonzalez. “TSC’s Architecture program goes above and beyond what is expected from a two-year program. And it’s easy to see that with these projects, their students’ skills are taken to a new level. As far as I’ve seen, many of them go on to lead successful careers in this field.”

In addition to gaining hands-on experiences through the real-world work involved in completing these service-learning projects, Abusalim said TSC Architecture students also improve their soft skills.

“When our students are working and networking with community and business leaders, they are enhancing their critical thinking, communication, presentation, leadership and teamwork skills, all of which are valuable when it comes to leading a successful career in this field,” he said. “They also get to see their communities through new eyes and a new perspective, making this experience very rewarding.”

Abusalim added that he looks forward to the day that his students can once again, safely resume these service-learning projects to continue making a difference in the lives of others, while showcasing their talents and skills.

“Our students graduate from our program with a sense of pride for what they were able to accomplish and bring to the table with this type of opportunity,” said Abusalim. “We’re very fortunate to have the support of our administration, board of trustees and community to be able to accomplish these service-learning projects.”

TSC hopes to expand its service-learning projects in the near future to include other programs such as Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC), Electrical and Drafting.

For more information, visit TSC’s Architecture program.