APRIL 25, 2022 — Students in the Margie and Bill Klesse College of Engineering and Integrated Design at UTSA are designing a tiny home to help homeless veterans—and gaining valuable career experience while they do it.
Civil engineering students Trinity Schaefer and Elizabeth De Leon established the UTSA Big Heroes Tiny Homes project to apply the knowledge they gained in the classroom toward a service project. They came across the national initiative while searching for a service-oriented opportunity for their American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) chapter at UTSA. The chapter is one of the most active organizations in the Klesse College of Engineering and Integrated Design.
What transpired next was the bridging together of students from different degrees within the college into a real-world project. UTSA architecture seniors Lauren Cepeda, Lorena Gonzalez, Marianne Friedel and Simran Maredia joined Schaefer and De Leon to help lead the design.
The Bento House is a 384-square-foot home with ADA-accessible features such as countertops, sliding doors and storage.
The architecture students submitted proposals, like they would in a professional setting for a chance to lead the design of the project. Some focused on creating a cozy space while others committed to an environmentally sustainable design, but all of the teams were asked to consider capacity for disability accommodations in their designs. Faculty and industry professionals from various fields reviewed the designs to determine which one would be developed into UTSA’s first tiny home.
The team focused on ADA-accessible design best practices for the 384-square-foot home, which they dubbed the Bento House. ADA-accessible countertops, storage and sliding doors—an efficiency feature given the limited space for door openings in the home—were all aspects that the students took into consideration during the design process. They are now waiting to begin construction, which they estimate will take only one semester.
“Having the opportunity to independently work on a home design, especially an ADA-accessible tiny home has been a great experience,” Maredia said.
The UTSA Big Heroes Tiny Homes project is one example of the many hands-on learning opportunities available to students through the university’s Classroom to Career initiative, which incorporates experiential learning, including internships, service learning, undergraduate research and study abroad to help students gain the hard and soft skills in demand by employers. These hands-on learning experiences are particularly important in linking classroom success to life after graduation for historically underserved populations such as the diverse student body at UTSA.
As part of its strategic plan, UTSA aims for 75% of its undergraduate students to participate in some type of experiential learning by the time they graduate.
“The coolest thing about this project is it’s drawing together expertise from all these different majors,” Schaefer said. “When you get out into the industry within your discipline, a big problem is that we don’t talk to each other or listen to each other. So, for me, as a civil engineer, hearing about the architectural design and the challenges when it comes to construction was cool to encounter so early in my career.”
The Klesse College of Engineering and Integrated Design encourages collaboration between students pursuing degrees in architecture, civil engineering, construction science and management, interior design and more to achieve project goals—including enriching a students’ experience in cross-discplinary interactions to prepare them to work alongside varying specialities in the post-graduation world.
Big Heroes Tiny Homes is a trademark program that initially began with Humble ISD students in Houston, Texas. Dedicated to assisting homeless veterans find shelter, the project has gained momentum nationwide, with UTSA being the first to adopt the project outside of Houston.
Since launching last summer at UTSA, the program has provided a way for students at the college to invest in their community while working toward their desired career goals.
ASCE at UTSA partnered with Operation Finally Home, a registered nonprofit that helps veterans in need of a home, and The Towne Twin Village, a new neighborhood built on grounds that previously housed a drive-in theater. It will soon became a housing community for homeless seniors on San Antonio’s inner east side.
Operation Finally Home will supply the materials to UTSA’s student-led initiative, Schaefer said.
“The Klesse College of Engineering and Integrated Design’s Student Success Center has supported us extensively. We’re grateful for the facilities and mentorship they’ve provided us throughout this experience,” she added.
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