“For engineers, the only difference between a job and community service is … not getting paid for it,” said Emeritus Engineering Professor Kenny Stevens. “It’s kind of cool,” he added.
Stevens was addressing a group of students participating in the Seidel Engineering Leadership Institute who were about to embark on their own community service project: helping to revitalize the New Mexico State University Community Garden. The garden was officially established as a chartered Associated Students of NMSU organization in 2017. The group installed 15 raised garden beds with drip irrigation. Unfortunately, the garden languished during the time campus was closed due to the COVID-19 epidemic.
The Seidel Engineering Leadership Institute began in 2019 with a donation from engineering alum Ron Seidel and his wife, Janice, to provide students with the interpersonal and intrapersonal skills needed to become successful leaders in engineering careers. Part of the institute curriculum requires community service. Options were discussed and the students, all juniors and seniors, elected to pursue the community garden as their spring semester project.
“It is my strong belief that engineers serve society and that service goes beyond the workplace,” said College of Engineering Dean Lakshmi N. Reddi, who envisioned and leads the institute.
Reddi selected Stevens, founder of Aggies Without Limits, recognized this past fall with the first-ever NMSU Community Engagement, Extension and Outreach Award, as the person to lead the service effort.
Using a real-world approach, students analyzed the project by applying engineering process principles. They then responded to a formal request for proposal with their implementation plans, graphics, labor and materials requirements, budgets, timelines and plans for sustainability.
The result led to three teams, each to address two specific projects. The students made progress on all of the projects, successfully completing some, but not all. The experience was an important learning process that goes beyond engineering skills.
Before the group’s involvement, NMSU Community Garden Organization president Jonathan Alaniz and vice-president Alexi Bernard-Weiner had already set to work, getting five of the plots prepared and planted. They also procured a donation of 12-cubic yards of garden soil from Sunland Nursery.
“We faced some challenges, but we were able to make some real progress. During our weekly meetings at the garden, everyone worked together to move the soil, pull the bermudagrass and work on the irrigation system. It was amazing to see what we were able to accomplish in such a short amount of time,” said Marina Espinosa, mechanical engineering student.
“As for the bermudagrass, we originally planned to spray it with herbicide. Although after being referred to NMSU’s weed specialist, we were informed that it would be ideal to just pull them out from the root,” she added.
“As engineers, it is easy to conceptualize and design things to sell or give to a certain group or organization without thinking about the process and people you must contact to carry out such projects… As the sign group we not only designed the sign, but we also came up with a plan on how to install it, including using cement. However, when talking to the sign office here at NMSU we were informed that NMSU would be the ones to install the sign and pretty much make it themselves,” said Jorge Perez, mechanical engineering student.
The NMSU Sign Shop has since installed signs posting community garden guidelines provided by the group at the site.
“Mixing your ideas with that of another can ensure a plan is executed with even more efficiency than doing it on your own. This project really allowed me to put that into practice in my own life and I now know that in my career as an engineer I will be combining my own ideas with the ideas of others to really make something work in the best possible way,” said Iryna Plaksina, civil engineering student.
By the end of the semester, all 15 plots were filled with fresh soil, equipped with a working irrigation system and ready for planting.
“Yep, we’re still out at the garden and we’ve got eggplant, onions and tomatoes growing at the moment,” Bernard-Weiner said. “It’s slow with the summer season and students gone but garden days are once a month and posted to our socials. People can find us on Instagram @communitygardennmsu and on Facebook at https://m.facebook.com/CommunityGardenNMSU/. We also have beds available that can be reserved by semester free of charge. We’d love to see new faces.”
The NMSU Community Garden is located at the corner of Standley Drive and Fabian Garcia Avenue. For more information about the NMSU Community Garden Organization, contact:
- Jonathan Alaniz, president, email@example.com
- Alexi Bernard-Weiner, vice-president, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Jack Kirby, staff adviser, assistant director NMSU Environmental Health Safety and Risk, email@example.com
You can also visit Facebook at https://m.facebook.com/CommunityGardenNMSU/ or Instagram @communitygardennmsu.