For the past two-and-a-half weeks, 42 Penn State students have been getting out of the classroom and applying what they’ve learned to a project that will benefit others.
Students in the College of Agricultural Sciences are working three hours per day for a total of three weeks to give residents of Stormbreak home a functional, aesthetic and safe outdoor environment, said Dan Stearns, professor of landscape contracting.
“It’s experiential learning at its best,” he said.
Stearns and Martin McGann, associate professor of landscape contracting, co-teach two courses — planting design and landscape construction. They’ve done a project every year since 1992, but typically it’s beautifying a section of campus, Stearns said.
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A few years ago, they did a project for House of Care, he said. And this year, they had a contact at Centre County Youth Service Bureau.
Stearns and McGann were shown a few properties. They thought Stormbreak would be a challenge for their students, and they could see the property really needed it, said Theresa Kieffer, senior program director at YSB. Stormbreak, located on West Fairmount Avenue, is YSB’s girls’ group home.
A couple from Maryland wanted to see the project happen, so they footed the bill with a $50,000 donation, Stearns said.
Students in the landscape construction class have been working on the project for the whole semester, Stearns said. During classroom time, they identified the design, figured out the schedule and materials and saw presentations by manufacturers of outdoor lighting, wall blocks and paver stones.
“We learn about it, and then we come out and do it. And that’s when you really learn about it,” he said.
Once project time rolled around, they started with some demolition work, tearing down a two-car garage, Stearns said. Then there was a lot of concrete that had to be broken up and moved out, along with some plant material.
After that, he said, there was a lot of excavation, putting in retaining walls, doing some paving and providing seating areas and a walkway. To finish it off, they’ll add privacy and decorative fencing and a lot of planting.
“They take a great amount of pride in these projects. They just really enjoy seeing it all come together and knowing that it’s a cause like this one,” Stearns said.
Kieffer said the project means a lot to them.
Having a space that looks good makes the kids feel like they’re cared about, she said.
Brad Heckler and Erica Devinney, both senior landscape contracting students, were working in front of Stormbreak on Friday afternoon. They were putting down paver link sand to help keep the pavers in place.
It’s nice to get outside instead of being in class, Heckler said.
And it’s nice to give back, Devinney said.