Landscape architecture faculty lead service-learning project in Africa

University Park, Pa. -- For the past six weeks, 11 Penn State students and two faculty members have been working, studying and conducting research in Tanzania as part of a study abroad and service-learning initiative established by the H. Campbell and Eleanor R. Stuckeman School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. The interdisciplinary program, developed by Brian Orland, professor of landscape architecture, and Larry Gorenflo, associate professor of landscape architecture, has taken students to the most remote parts of the East African country, where they are addressing issues of population growth versus environmental conservation. The group will return to the United States in late June.

The students, representing four colleges at the University, are working with residents in villages adjacent to Udzungwa Mountains National Park. Located about seven hours' drive southwest of the coastal city of Dar es Salaam, the park was chosen as the program site because it is among the highest reserves of biological diversity in Africa and is bordered by settlements where villagers struggle daily to access food, water and fuel. One of the greatest challenges for the park is finding ways to accommodate those basic human needs while conserving nature.

According to Orland, the students are benefiting from the real-world "studio."

"They need to encounter global issues face-to-face with the people whose families and livelihoods are at stake -- not in a comfortable classroom," he said. "We are working with a village on some very basic issues of access and water management, starting out with a GPS survey. It's very crude, but the best we can do in the circumstances and radically improves the availability of the most critical information needed for planning."

Working with local officials, the students are participating in socioeconomic evaluation and community design and planning in villages where the World Wide Fund for Nature initiated community land use plans four years ago. In the future, the project will include the preparation of additional participatory land use plans for communities, income-expenditure assessments, mapping of community resource use, and design of corridors outside the park to link it to other protected areas in this part of Tanzania.

Courses are being taught by Orland and Gorenflo in collaboration with the Udzungwa Ecological Monitoring Centre, where the program is based. Other partners include Tanzanian universities, the Tanzanian National Park Service and the Trento Museum of Natural Science (Italian museum that constructed the Udzungwa Ecological Monitoring Centre). The program has been funded in large part by Penn State alumnus Don Hamer, who has been to Tanzania several times and has a long-standing interest in the future of the people of Africa. His gift will support the initial planned five years of the program.

For more information, contact Orland at boo1@psu.edu.

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Last Updated June 29, 2010