Project Examples

Lowell Green Roof Project

Course: 14.330- Soil Mechanics
Semester: Fall 2006
Instructor: Pradeep U. Kurup
Partner:Merrimack River Watershed Council

Brief Description:

This project aimed to incorporate a service-learning (S-L) component in the undergraduate soil mechanics course (14.330), in spring 2006. All 40 students in course participated. The Merrimack River Watershed Council, Inc. (MRWC) in cooperation with the Lowell National Historical Park (LNHP), Keep Lowell Beautiful (KLB) and the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML) had proposed a roof rain garden project (titled Garden Varieties: Lowell Roof Garden Project – Design, Construction and Education Outreach) in Lowell, MA on the roof of the Lowell National Historic Park Maintenance Shop. The high visibility of the maintenance shop (located next to the Northern Canal in the heart of Lowell) is expected to make this a showcase project for our Service Learning initiative.

Full Description:

MRWC is a non-profit organization “which preserves, protects, and advances the wise use of both the watershed land and waters. MRWC fulfills its mission through watershed education, community organizing, environmental monitoring, and working with communities as they make land use decisions.” (http://www.merrimack.org/). Executive Director Christine Tabak attended the SLICE community partners’ open house in the fall 2005, and subsequently met with the SLICE Coordinator. Christine was looking for help in the spring 2006 on a green roof project and was successfully linked with Professor Pradeep Kurup. Christine worked very closely with Pradeep to integrate the project into the curriculum, served as a resource for students and faculty throughout the semester, and attended the student presentations.

This project aimed to incorporate a service-learning (S-L) component in the undergraduate soil mechanics course (14.330), in spring 2006. All 40 students in course participated. The Merrimack River Watershed Council, Inc. (MRWC) in cooperation with the Lowell National Historical Park (LHHP), Keep Lowell Beautiful (KLB) and the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML) had proposed a roof rain garden project (titled Garden Varieties: Lowell Roof Garden Project – Design, Construction and Education Outreach) in Lowell, MA on the roof of the Lowell National Historic Park Maintenance Shop. The high visibility of the maintenance shop (located next to the Northern Canal in the heart of Lowell) is expected to make this a showcase project for our Service Learning initiative.

Course objectives met by the s-l project:

  • Students (groups) reviewed literature on green roofs,
  • Determined the climate, rainfall, and frost zone of Massachusetts,
  • Researched various types of sedum plants and chose one suitable for the climate, rainfall, and frost zone in Massachusetts. Since green roofs are designed to be light; they also considered weight in their analysis.
  • Determined the nutrient and composition (amount of clay, silt, and sand) requirements of the soil medium for the specific plant chosen.
  • Found the nutrients, pH, and organic requirements,
  • Tested the soil medium – sieve analysis, moisture content, porosity, specific gravity, and density. Graphed the gradation curve for the proposed soil medium.
  • Classified the soil as per ASTM,
  • Performed an engineering economic analysis,
  • Each group submitted a final project report and made a Power point presentation to the class and the community partner

Community objectives met by the project:

This project will aid the community partner in determining the most cost effective design approach and construction materials.

Deliverables to the community:

Design Recommendations and Final Project Report

Evidence of positive results for students:

  • Student comprehension and performance improved, as judged from assignments and exams
  • Most groups showed very good team work
  • Improved their presentation skills
  • The final project reports were of high quality and is expected to help the community partner (from questionnaires sent to the community partner)

Positive results for faculty:

Integrating S-L in this soil mechanics course was a learning experience for faculty. It generated new ways of delivering course content, and demonstrating some of the practical applications. Faculty also enjoyed interactions with the MRWC community partner.

Positive results for community:

By researching the soil medium and plants for MA precipitation, climate, and frost zone, this project helped decrease the community partner’s design costs.

Negative results:

Some students did not like the project because it was too broad in scope and not focused. They also did not like the fact that it was an open-ended project (which is the case with most S-L project and is not a negative thing) and expected the instructor and community partner to provide specific answers/solution to the problem.

Chief barriers that had to be overcome:

Time: Integrating S-L into an existing course does involve a lot of time from the instructor. Even though the course work load (assignments and quizzes) were adjusted (reduced) to incorporate S-L components, the students had to spend more time than they would have without the S-L.

Project Fit (not a good fit): Some students expressed to the instructor that this project may not be the best choice for this class, since the instructor and the students had to learn the soil science from an agricultural perspective. In traditional Soil Mechanics class soil is taught from a civil engineering point of view (as a construction and foundation material).

Suggestions to make s-l implementation easier and more meaningful:

To make S-L projects easier ad more meaningful it is essential to find projects that fit well with the course content and expectations. For example a project involving soil compaction, permeability/drainage, or strength, could have been easily implemented within this course. The green roof project was too broad in scope and involved aspects that are not covered in the course thereby increasing the work load for the instructor and the students.