December 22, 2011

Service learning and community engagement are an LSU Engineering tradition, especially for students in the Biological and Agricultural Engineering program. Every BAE student, including recent “Happy” award recipient and BAE senior Nicole Walker, gets the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with both engineering design and community service through Dr. Marybeth Lima’s course BE 1252. Lima gives her students one semester-long task: to propose, design and build a new playground for a deserving public school in Baton Rouge and give back to the local community. Dr. Lima’s students have now helped to fund and build more than 20 such playgrounds, and many of her students, like Walker, never stop giving.

This year, LSU’s Center for Community Engagement, Learning and Leadership, or CCELL, awarded Walker and nine other LSU faculty, students and community partners with the inaugural CCELL “Happy” Awards. These awards recognize recipients for their excellence in service learning. The “Happy” award was initiated to commemorate former CCELL director Jan Shoemaker’s 10 years of distinguished service, commitment to education and service for the common good. 

Walker works with Lima, director of CCELL, to design playground layouts, order playgrounds parts and volunteer during playground installations. Walker has helped write two grants that brought in approximately $16,500 in funds to support playground builds for local schools.

“The part that is most rewarding to me is the fact that I get to actually do something for the community,” Walker said. Walker uses her opportunities to give back to the community as a way to apply what she learns in the classroom about engineering design. Some of the local playgrounds that she helps to rebuild are 30-40 years old and need revamping with adherence to new safety and ergonomic standards.

 “You are seeing what you have learned really come to life, and you get to help other people at the same time,’ Walker said. “Nicole has taken the technical, communication, and engagement skills she's learned at LSU and has used these skills beyond the gates of campus to positively impact children in our community,” Dr. Lima said.

Dr. Lima walked into Walker’s early morning senior design class on November 14 with a handful of balloons, surprising Walker with her Happy Award and a commemorative lapel pin, which Walker herself helped to design based on input from Shoemaker’s friends and colleagues. “Nicole is deserving of the Happy Award because she represents the highest ideals of an engaged scholar,” Dr. Lima said. “Whether she is designing playgrounds, drawing up plans, writing proposals, mixing concrete, or driving a forklift, Nicole's collective efforts and her belief in service toward the common good embody LSU's commitment to engagement,” Dr. Lima said. 

Walker’s future plans include finding a job in her field and keeping up her tradition of volunteer work. Walker’s service to her University and her local community don’t stop with playground design; she has a long history of volunteer work at the Audubon Zoo, tending to locally treasured animals including alligators and nutria, and she currently serves as fundraising chair for LSU’s Biological Engineering Student Organization. Not to mention, Walker always carries around a smile on her face. “CCELL is delighted to recognize Nicole Walker with a Happy Award,” Dr. Lima said.

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Article written by Paige Brown, communications graduate student worker. For more information, contact Cassie Arceneaux, College of Engineering, carcen6@lsu.edu or (225) 578-0092. 



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