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USM construction school partners with R3SM and Habitat for Humanity



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The University of Southern Mississippi School of Construction and Design students are gaining hands-on experience this semester through partnerships with Recover Rebuild Restore Southeast Mississippi (R3SM) and Habitat for Humanity of the Pine Belt.

So far this semester, students have constructed a new wheelchair ramp at a home with Habitat for Humanity and demolished and installed a new front porch for a local veteran in partnership with R3SM.

These activities are part of course requirements in two service-learning classes taught by Fan Zhang, associate professor in construction management. Zhang explains that she developed the course after participating in the spring seminar on service-learning offered by USM’s Center for Community Engagement.

“The seminar really helps to break the mental barriers for trying this new pedagogy,” Zhang said. “The support I got from the Center for Community Engagement helped me to make the decision to incorporate service-learning within the course.”

Zhang was motivated to include the service-learning activities based on her hopes for students to relate what they learn in the classroom to real-world practice.

“I hope my students see that the real world is messy and not everything is planned out as in school,” said Zhang.

Students have spent several Friday mornings working with R3SM and Habitat. The response from students has been positive so far, with many expressing interest in attending the job site every Friday even though it is not required. The activities have allowed Zhang an opportunity to get to know her students better, and she has been impressed with their professionalism and willingness to get the job done “no matter what.”

“I am amazed by how well they can work together,” said Zhang. “After the initial confusion, students quickly formed different groups to work on different tasks and collaborate with each other. They all want to be helpful and find a job that suits their skill set.”

R3SM is a nonprofit organization that provides restoration, rebuilding, and recovery services for low-income individuals in Mississippi’s Pinebelt region. Since 2006, R3SM has received and administered over $11.7 million in grant funding for assessment, case management services, and direct assistance to individuals. R3SM has repaired more than 500 homes and built 44 new homes from the ground up.

“Being a student at our school is about more than just getting an education; it’s about making a difference! Our students actively participate in service-learning projects, assisting those in need and making a positive impact in our community,” noted Dr. Emre Bayraktar, director of the School of Construction and Design. “By combining hands-on learning with community service, our students gain practical skills and a deep sense of civic responsibility.”

Pine Belt Habitat for Humanity has been serving the surrounding community since 1990. The organization helps low-income families in need by providing, simple, decent, affordable housing through a partnership between families, volunteers and a coalition of individuals, businesses, churches and others with the necessary resources to accomplish its mission.

AEC 344 Building Structures and BCT 386 Project Control are two of the many service-learning courses offered at the University of Southern Mississippi. Service-Learning courses are supported by the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) and involve course-based, credit-bearing educational experiences in which students participate in organized service activities that meet identified community needs. A list of service-learning courses offered at USM are located on the Center for Community Engagement’s website at

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