Service Learning Course Links UMass Amherst Engineers, Town of Amherst

Amherst Department of Public Works
Amherst Department of Public Works

Cheryl Brooks, the UMass Amherst College of Engineering’s assistant dean for experiential learning, has been teaching a course, “Learning through Community Engagement,” designed to build bridges between the Town of Amherst and the UMass Amherst campus. The course gives engineering students the opportunity to work on community-based projects where they can apply engineering principles to solving real-world problems and gain a broader perspective of the social issues that contribute to the needs in their community.

About 20 students have taken the course this fall.

One project is run by Michael Duffey, who recently retired from George Washington University as a professor in mechanical engineering. He has been volunteering at the Hospice of the Fisher Home in Amherst, which partially burned down over the summer. Duffey supervised three projects for students: redesigning the patient alarm system; designing and building storage areas for nursing supplies and redesigning lighting in patient bedrooms.

Several civil engineering students are working with Guilford Mooring, Amherst’s director of public works, on designing a new sidewalk from Applewood Retirement Community on Bay Road in South Amherst to nearby Atkins Farms. This sidewalk would also serve various constituents, such as Hampshire College and the Eric Carle Museum.

Another project is with the Town of Amherst water department, sampling the water in all the public buildings, such as libraries, police station, fire stations, and other town buildings, to test for lead and other contaminants.

A fourth project is a level-one energy audit for Amherst town buildings, starting with the Department of Public Works building. The students are working with Brad Newell and College of Engineering alumnus Paul Banks from B2Q Technologies of Andover to determine the inefficiencies of the current systems and recommend potential savings from more energy efficient systems.