Reconstruction and recovery projects provide unique learning environment

Jun 11th, 2014

By Jackey Locke

From left, April Smith and Amanda Ryan help to build a fence in New Orleans, La.
Reconstruction and recovery projects provide unique learning environment

Civil engineering students from Memorial had a unique opportunity recently to learn first-hand how the concepts and theories they learn in the classroom apply to the needs of society.

The students were part of the Together by design (TBD) team, an organization formed in 2007 to help the people of New Orleans recover from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina and to promote the benefits of volunteerism and hands-on experience to young engineering students.

Darlene Spracklin-Reid is an engineer and co-founder of TBD.

“Students learn about the value of team work, leadership and volunteerism,” she said. “We have been working in the neighbourhood of Broadmoor and our student volunteers have made such a positive difference. I want them to know that they can use their engineering skills to make a positive impact, and that volunteerism can be both professional and personally uplifting.”

Fourth-year student April Smith has travelled to New Orleans twice with TBD. She says trips such as these are so important for teaching students the true value of what an education can provide.

“It not only provides us the ability to better our lives, but to drastically better the lives of others,” she said. “I am a firm believer that service-learning is a very valuable form of education, especially now that I have been exposed to the experience that Together by Design has provided me. Being able to apply some aspects of our schooling to a tangible real-life situation is very satisfying. Not only can we look at the problem and help come up with a solution, we also get to help implement it and see it all come together.”

For Ms. Spracklin-Reid, TBD has exceeded her expectations – both for the people of New Orleans and for the students. She says many of the student volunteers are growing into community and professional leaders.

“The students gain new confidence in their skills as they see the impact their efforts have had on the city and the people of New Orleans,” she said. “We see them gain a new appreciation for the challenges that people face and the ways that engineers can use their skills to improve their quality of life.”

To date, TBD has travelled to New Orleans 10 times with more than 100 student volunteers from Newfoundland and Labrador to help with reconstruction and recovery.

As infrastructure repairs near completion in Broadmoor and residents move back in, the focus for the 2014 project team has been on residential reconstruction projects. The projects included work on a home for couple who lost everything in the flood and were subsequently victims of fraud; completing plumbing work at a homeless shelter and installing fencing and cabinets for the Annunciation Mission, which houses volunteers who come to help with the rebuilding effort.

To learn more about Together by Design and how you can get involved through donations or volunteerism, please contact Ms. Spracklin-Reid at or go to


Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science

230 Elizabeth Ave, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1B 3X9

Postal Address: P.O. Box 4200, St. John's, NL, CANADA, A1C 5S7

Tel: (709) 864-8000