With thousands of public and private secondary education institutions to choose from across the country, the University of Evansville sets itself apart through experiential learning programs that benefit students while also giving back to the community.
Originally called the Global Assistance Project, UE’s Changelab Program was founded 15 years ago, but restructured in 2015 to allow UE students and faculty, local high schoolers, and community members to submit their own projects. Today, their programming has increased more than 400 percent and exists as part of UE’s approval as a Changemaker Campus by Ashoka U in 2018.
“UE Changelab is an opportunity for students to showcase their critical thinking, creative problem solving, and project management skills,” says Brooksie Smith, program coordinator.
UE is the only Changemaker Campus in Indiana and one of only 50 worldwide. With about 75 to 100 students participating in 10 to 15 projects per semester, the UE community has made an impact through initiatives such as art therapy in Guatemala, the CommuniTree — the world’s tallest solar artificial tree — at Mickey’s Kingdom, and the preservation and alternative energy use at the 1934 Usonian-style Peters-Margedant House, built by William Wesley Peters.
“Even when faced with obstacles and restrictions due to COVID-19, our UE Changelab students not only survived, but thrived,” says Smith. “They faced these challenges head on, defied gravity and produced outstanding UE Changelab Projects.”
Currently overseeing 12 projects — including the Tiny Home project to combat homelessness which has run continuously since 2017 and the Trinity Downtown Storm Water Park that began as the third-place proposal in the 2017 High School Changemaker Challenge — the program hasn’t been slowed down by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Students turned the pandemic into another opportunity to incite change by partnering with WNIN for two cohesive fall 2020 Changelabs about the Midwest’s coronavirus response. The first Changelab, led by Associate Professor of Communications Tamara Wandel, is producing an investigative journalism piece. The other class, led by Assistant Professor of Mathematics Darrin Weber, will contribute data analysis and statistics support.
“Our Changelabs are meeting not only the environmental, but also the social and emotional needs in our community,” says Smith. “There is a direct link between the skill sets students are learning in Changelab, and how those skills apply to real world problem solving.”