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Innovative Neighborhood for the Homeless: a Combined Technological-Socioeconomic Approach to Engineering Senior Design

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ASEE 2021 Gulf-Southwest Annual Conference


Waco, Texas

Publication Date

March 24, 2021

Start Date

March 24, 2021

End Date

March 26, 2021

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Kenneth R. Leitch P.E. West Texas A&M University Orcid 16x16

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Kenneth R. Leitch holds a Ph.D. in civil engineering from New Mexico State University and M.B.A. from Colorado Christian University. He is an Associate Professor of civil engineering at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas. He is a registered P.E. in Texas and Indiana and a LEED Green Associate. His primary interests are in sustainable development, construction materials, photogrammetry, structural analysis, transportation safety and structures, STEM outreach, and engineering instruction.

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Nathan Howell College of Engineering, West Texas A&M University


Erick Butler West Texas A&M University

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Dr. Butler has graduated of Cleveland State University in Cleveland, Ohio with a BS in Environmental Science (2007), an MS in Environmental Engineering (2009), and a Dr. Eng. in Civil Engineering (2013). Currently, he is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas since August 2013. He is an engineering intern in the state of Texas and is a registered P.E. in the state of Louisiana. His research interests include biological, electrochemical, and photochemical wastewater treatment methods. He teaches courses in water and wastewater treatment, solid and hazardous waste, surveying, and programming fundamentals.

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Vinu Unnikrishnan West Texas A&M University

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Dr. Unnikrishnan is an Assistant Professor in the College of Engineering at the West Texas A&M University. He was previously a faculty in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics at the University of Alabama. He received his Ph.D. from Texas A&M University in 2007. Dr. Unnikrishnan’s research interests are in the development of multiscale methods for the mechanical and thermal characteristics of carbon-nanotube and polymeric based composite systems for use in advanced bio-medical and industrial applications. He has authored over 40 journal papers, and 5 book chapters in various topics in mechanics of nano- and bio-materials. He is the Associate Editor of the journal Mechanics of Advanced Materials and Structures, and serves the ASME, AIAA and TMS. He was the recipient of the 2013-2014 SEC Faculty Travel Awards, and was awarded the 2015-2016 US Air Force Summer Faculty Fellowship.

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The concept of Service-Learning (SL) has been shown to have many positive impacts on engineering students and young engineering professionals generally. Traditionally most engineering coursework is heavy on hard science and math and very light on any courses involving social sciences. Four faculty from Redacted University (RU) involved two different Civil and Environmental Engineering senior design student groups in a SL opportunity in Somewhere, TX in the 2019-20 school year. We worked with a local non-profit organization called Christ Church Camp (CCC) that served as the primary client for design. The project was to design a neighborhood for those transitioning out of homelessness and into greater self-sufficiency. The neighborhood’s design had to fit within a budget determined by grant money sought by CCC. There were engineering challenges concerning how to build sustainable tiny homes and use rainwater harvesting to support an urban garden. Student designers also had to learn the basics of social-work and poverty alleviation so that they could design a neighborhood that would build confidence and community for homeless individuals. Frequently, the homeless that CCC serves experiences long standing psychological challenges with a significant percentage of individuals coming out of addictions and with deficient relational skills. The first group of students had to select a large piece of land that was in an urban area. They were free to design a neighborhood that could house about 40 individuals between temporary tent-structures and tiny homes with few constraints. The second group of students improved on the design by redesigning tiny homes to be built from shipping containers, removing the tent dwellings, designing a central community building, and incorporating sustainable design choices that would result in a LEED certified neighborhood (estimate 45 points in final design). In addition to guiding the project itself, faculty examined student comments from weekly memoranda to evaluate both ABET outcomes and growth in empathy/compassion. We expect that this kind of partnership between engineering education and social-work related non-profits will become more common. Specific challenges we faced including interfacing with city government, uncertainties about land locations to purchase, and having clients that are so different from students and their experiences. We hope that other engineering educators will be able to surmount these challenges by building upon our experiences.

Leitch, K. R., & Howell, N., & Butler, E., & Unnikrishnan, V. (2021, March), Innovative Neighborhood for the Homeless: a Combined Technological-Socioeconomic Approach to Engineering Senior Design Paper presented at ASEE 2021 Gulf-Southwest Annual Conference, Waco, Texas.

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