Maureen Kelly ’15, ’17 says a service-learning capstone project working on civil engineering projects in Lowell and Haiti transformed her education — and her life.

“Service learning is a mindset,” she says. “It’s become a lifestyle for me, one that I recommend to others all the time.”

Kelly was in the second cohort of civil and environmental engineering students at UMass Lowell to design and carry out a capstone project in Haiti during their senior year, says Linda Barrington, service-learning coordinator for the Francis College of Engineering.

Kelly’s group spent the fall of 2014 working on a pair of watershed projects for Lowell City Engineer Lisa Demeo: determining whether Clay Pit Brook flooded nearby residents’ homes because of a city-managed dam, and figuring out a better drop-off and parking plan for a Community Teamwork Inc. day care center, including whether a holding pond could be replaced by underground water storage.

The Lowell projects prepared them for a January 2015 trip to Haiti, where they performed watershed analysis, surveying and site design for a new industrial park in the capital, Port-au-Prince. The students saw the devastating effects of the 2010 earthquake on infrastructure everywhere, but also met very resilient people.

“They say that some people fall in love with Haiti, while others may visit once and never go back,” Kelly says. “I was captivated.”

Kelly went on to earn her master’s degree in structural engineering through the accelerated bachelor’s-to-master’s program. Now she works for TFMoran Inc. in Bedford, N.H., which gave her a week off to return to Haiti — just two weeks after she began her job.

“Their community-based values match the way I want to live my life,” she says. “You can’t be one person at work and another at home.”

This time around, Kelly was reconnoitering for next year’s seniors, whom she is mentoring for their capstone project: designing septic systems for an orphanage near Les Cayes (near UMass Lowell’s Haiti Development Studies Center).

Kelly is also helping a smaller group of chemical and civil engineering majors on another orphanage project, a new biodigester that can produce methane from manure. In her spare time, she’s figuring out how to make a midsized composting toilet system for the orphanage.

“When I started college, I saw higher education as a personal steppingstone. Now I understand the role higher education institutions have in the world,” she says. “Students should be sharing what they learn and what they know with the community, and we do that at UMass Lowell.”