Arkansas NTN Students Learn Empathy and Engineering

May 18, 2017

Last month, a team of four Arkadelphia High School students won the Students Design for Change at Arkansas Tech University. Under the guidance of teachers Bud McMillion and James William, students McKinley Green, Reagan Rorie, Staton Whitten and Tyler Woodson earned first place for their construction of a micro shelter as temporary housing for a person who is homeless. NTN asked freshman McKinley Green to reflect on this project and she responded with the following piece:

After listening to speakers that visited our school, we were able to see the high level of homelessness in Arkansas, as well as in the United States. Since learning of the urgency of this problem, we attended a symposium at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. At this symposium we learned more about how to help the homeless. This could be done by building a small shelter for homeless to temporarily live in. After being pitched this project, my team of four decided to create a design, within the supplied $1,000 budget, of a unique micro-shelter. Our design, we believed, met most of the needs for someone who is homeless.  The design was also aesthetically pleasing, as we were aiming to make it unique.

My favorite portion of this project was being able to design and construct this shelter strictly based off of our own blueprints. As a ninth grader, this task seemed a little over-whelming and too advanced for us, since this was our first engineering course to ever be enrolled in. We started by revisiting the image of the shelter at the symposium. Then we began to brain storm various exterior looks.  As a group we knew we had to stay under budget, even if we wanted to remain creative.  We came to the conclusion that using a cheaper material (such as PVC pipe and corrugated tin) would be less costly and might leave us with enough money to provide necessities and amenities inside our shelter. After the frame of PVC was decided, we began to attach tin as the roof. These materials were necessary to shape our curved, half-circle design. We ran into a problem when we purchased our siding. Our siding was on the pricy side, and when a teammates’ dad purchased the siding, he did not realize that purchase would put us $50 over budget. To scrape up some money quickly, we began gathering unused material and returning them for cash back.  By doing this we were able to maintain the budget and include every item we needed.

From this project I have learned that as humans we need and desire a home to live in, not only one that meets our needs, but one that is comfortable and livable. When purchasing our amenities, we tried to buy things that would sustain these people for a short time in the shelter, a place where they felt it was not built for them out of pity. We included things like; a fan, lights, a heater, a stove, toiletries, a futon with sheets and pillows, a shelf, and some Gideon bibles.

Homelessness is an issue that has been and needs to continue to be addressed in our nation. I say this because we all desire for the homeless to get back on their feet, get a job, and buy their own home, but since they temporarily cannot do that, this is just a boost to encourage them to succeed and go better places. This project has also given me more insight on why people are homeless, what they might experience being homeless, and their basic human needs for survival. By learning this, I feel as a group we have become more compassionate and generous as we obtained more information on experiences people just like us go through every day. These are not ideal situations, so this is why we should help and encourage other teenagers to do projects like this one. I say teenagers because, speaking as one myself, we are growing up in a very spoiled generation with not a lot of insight on issues around the world, town, neighborhood, or school.

Thanks to PBL, we are able to do projects such as this one to make a difference and form more well-rounded teenagers who are aware of issues in our world today. I can say that PBL has definitely already impacted my life and hopefully those involved in this project, by opening our eyes to not so obvious problems around us. PBL creates good people skills, communication between students, and awareness of problem solving, as well as benefits us now and in the future.

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