If anyone is looking for the ultimate advocate for applied learning, Professor Orla Smyth LoPiccolo of the Department of Architecture and Construction Management and a registered architect fits the bill. Each year she scours Long Island for projects that will benefit both her students and the non-profit clients they work with by modernizing structures that are behind the times.
LoPiccolo has gone a step further and created a blueprint for success by taking her Architecture and Design Management students out of the classroom and dividing them into small groups for the purpose of creating blueprints of buildings in need of revitalization.
These student projects began with a major project in the Town of Islip, when then U.S. Congressman Steve Israel and Councilman Gene Parrington approached Farmingdale State College about recruiting students to prepare "existing condition" drawings of 12 veterans facilities in the town. The drawings helped the congressman obtain a half-million dollar grant from Congress to rehabilitate the buildings.
And so began a program that since its inception has seen nearly 300 students work with townships and non-profits to revive buildings that have seen better days. More than 70 buildings—including recreation centers, fire stations, and senior citizens centers—in seven different communities have benefited.
"Students learn how their new skills can help others through service, and they learn real job skills, including working with a client, measuring a building, preparing existing conditions construction drawings, teamwork, and time management," says Professor LoPiccolo. "They also gain a real project that starts their resumes."
One such project saw 25 students, working in small groups, help the Town of Brookhaven update buildings. It involved measuring, photographing, and sketching existing buildings with the purpose of giving Brookhaven a blueprint to use for improving its infrastructure with storm preparedness, space allocation, installation of fire suppression systems, and a starting point for future renovation.
On at least one occasion her students made friends as well. It happened on a Town of Islip project. LoPiccolo was touring all the site locations her students were assigned to, and when she got to her last stop, she was amazed to see what was going on.
"I saw the assigned team of students playing pool with several elderly veterans," she said. "They had completed their building survey and now they were hanging out like old buddies, chatting and laughing. The veterans were sharing World War II and Korean War stories and the students were asking them questions about their service. You know what I tell the students?
Learn to serve and serve to learn."