sealPurdue News

February 21, 2002

Purdue-led engineering teams, Habitat for Humanity sign pact

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.– In the wake of President Bush's call to volunteer service, student engineering teams across the country will unite to partner with Habitat for Humanity International.

A partnership led by Purdue University was signed today (Friday, 2/22) in Americus, Ga., home of the faith-based volunteer housing provider.

The foundation for the effort is EPICS, Engineering Projects in Community Service, which began at Purdue in 1995 as a course-based, learning program. Through the program, undergraduate students in engineering earn academic credit for long-term team projects that solve technology-based problems of not-for profit community agencies.

Leah H. Jamieson, co-director and co-founder of the EPICS program and a professor of electrical and computer engineering, said the agreement with Habitat for Humanity International represents a significant milestone for EPICS – its first national community partnership.

"What is most significant is the opportunity to work with Habitat on problems that may have national, or even international, impact," Jamieson said.

"On the academic side, EPICS was created to provide opportunities for students to gain experience in a wealth of real-world skills. It also was created to offer students a different view of engineering and of the role engineers perform in society. It is wonderful that our students, and students at EPICS sites throughout the country, will have the opportunity to bring their engineering skills to bear in partnership with an organization of Habitat's stature and scope."

In the past student teams from each university worked separately on projects with community service agencies such as Habitat for Humanity affiliates in their communities. Now teams from the eight participating universities will share information through the Web that will help Habitat's efforts.

William C. Oakes, co-director of the Purdue EPICS program and an assistant professor of freshman engineering, said Purdue will coordinate the Habitat for Humanity International projects.

Under provisions of the agreement, Habitat for Humanity will, in turn, provide EPICS with engineering projects and technical problems that further the students' professional development.

"Our intent is to have a more cohesive relationship with all the EPICS programs to share the information that we've learned working with our local Habitat affiliates and to apply it in communities all over the United States and, potentially, beyond," Oakes said.

EPICS students have developed and delivered database tools to address technical problems that exist at various project sites. Student engineering teams determine how to best utilize technology to improve their services or enable new services and provide long-term technical assistance.

For Habitat, Oakes said EPICS' support efforts may include the development of:

• Web-based instructional materials and tutorials aimed at volunteers for best practices in construction;

• Criteria and guidelines for substandard housing and the means to identify substandard housing;

• Geographical information system interfaces;

• Rehabilitation guidelines and applications for existing housing;

• Land-use scenarios for rural and urban studies; and

• Software tools for Habitat for Humanity affiliates.

Other support efforts may include participating in urban development and other pilot studies.

"We'll be able to work together to leverage the lessons we've learned and share resources to help Habitat for Humanity fulfill its mission of providing simple, decent and affordable housing," Oakes said.

John Spencer, university manager for Microsoft Research, hailed the partnership as a superior model for teaching fundamentals, advanced project management and community service. Microsoft and Microsoft Research's university relations group became the first national corporate sponsor of Purdue's EPICS program in 1997.

"I personally have been associated with Purdue's program since 1998, and I've found it one of the most innovative programs in engineering education," Spencer said. "It provides a very realistic long-term, team-based design and development experience coupled with service learning. This service approach provides students, community service organizations, students' future employers and society with a more holistic approach to learning."

In addition to Microsoft, the National Science Foundation and the Corporation for National Service will provide sponsorship for EPICS national partnership with Habitat for Humanity.

Jamieson and Edward J. Coyle, professor of electrical and computer engineering and assistant vice president for research in computing and communication, established the first engineering service program at Purdue in 1995 to develop professionally competent, socially aware and civic-minded engineering students.

The program also was organized to promote experiential, multidisciplinary education to develop students' technical skills and meet community service agencies' needs to improve the delivery, coordination, accounting and improvement of the services they provide.

Students involved in other Purdue EPICS community service projects have developed a centralized database to facilitate services, document reports and track clients for the Homelessness Prevention Network in Tippecanoe County; created computer-controlled and electromechanical toys for children with disabilities for the Wabash Center in Lafayette; and provided design and construction services for building a wetland to treat the agricultural runoff at the Purdue Agricultural Research Center.

Currently, the EPICS program has more than 500 students participating in 52 project teams at the seven other participating campuses: the University of Notre Dame, Iowa State University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Georgia Institute of Technology, Penn State University, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and Butler University in Indianapolis.

Millard Fuller and Nevil Eastwood, Habitat for Humanity's construction and environmental resources director, represented Habitat at today's agreement signing.

"The signing of this memorandum of understanding shows the great support Habitat for Humanity has had from Purdue University, and more specifically the EPICS team," Eastwood said. "We look forward to their continued involvement and also the involvement of other schools with our local affiliates throughout the United States."

Habitat for Humanity International is an ecumenical Christian ministry dedicated to eliminating poverty housing. Founded by Millard Fuller, along with his wife, Linda, Habitat for Humanity International and its affiliates in more than 2,000 communities in 83 nations have built and sold more than 100,000 homes to partner families with no-profit, zero-interest mortgages.

Habitat for Humanity International has 2,123 local affiliates throughout the world.

Writer: Grant Flora, (765) 494-2083,

Sources: Nevil Eastwood, (229) 924-6935,

Leah H. Jamieson, (765) 494-3653,

William C. Oakes, (765) 494-3892,

Angela Foster, Habitat for Humanity public relations officer, (229) 924-6935,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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