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Beyond The Forty Acres

Projects for Underserved Communities

The Cockrell School of Engineering is working to solve global challenges while giving students real-world experience.

In 2009, the college collaborated with the International Office and the School of Social Work to launch Projects for Underserved Communities (PUC), a course in which students apply their engineering skills to technical challenges in rural communities around the world. More than 100 students have participated, visiting villages in Peru, Ghana, and elsewhere. Students solicit philanthropic support from a combination of private and corporate sponsors.

“I think it is very important for students to be exposed to real-life experiences during their college career,” participant Abdul Alqaroot said.

Students assess cost, community commitment, impact, risk and feasibility of proposed projects. Teams get their designs approved, and over the summer they travel to their chosen communities to oversee the projects’ implementation.

Alqaroot’s team worked on a project in Nicaragua, partnering with a nonprofit organization to develop a community center and medical clinic in Cedro Galan, a neighborhood outside the capital, Managua. When the center needed a restroom, PUC students designed and built a flush toilet and septic system.

“The UT students involved in this program must learn how to think on their feet and consider various stakeholders’ views and effectively communicate their ideas,” said Laurie Young, director of special projects in the International Office. “As one of our past students said, ‘Life doesn’t happen in a textbook.’ ”