The School of Social Work is charting new territory with Projects in Underserved Communities (PUC), an innovative, interdisciplinary social work and engineering collaboration, the first such program in the country. Although they might seem apart, engineering and social work are a logical match — both are project-oriented and both want to enhance people’s lives, according to Professor Janet Ellzey, Vice Provost for International Programs at UT Austin and professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department, Cockrell School of Engineering. Profesor Ellzeycreated (PUC) in 2009, along with engineering colleague, Professor James O’Connor.
In 2010 they were joined by Professor Dorie Gilbert from Social Work, to form an interdisciplinary collaboration whereby social work students enroll in the 3-semester PUC program, bringing social work knowledge, values, and skills to bear on the project implementation planning. The program spans through three semesters. In the fall, social work students work alongside engineering students in teams to focus on project selection and planning. During the spring, while engineering students take a technical design course, social work students concentrate on a community development course. Both groups meet regularly during the spring, and social work students offer culturally-relevant community engagement strategies to ensure that the engineering projects will be well-received in the communities. In the summer, both groups travel together to implement the projects with community and technical partners. For more information about how students sign up to participate in PUC, see PUC-Find out how to join! (PowerPoint) and Students describe PUC experiences (PowerPoint).
As part of the ongoing engineering collaboration, the school’s Institute for Community Development: U.S. and Abroad will help support the sustainability of PUC projects by placing social work interns in locations where PUC engineering projects are in need of a sustainable component. Thus, social work adds the community development component to the projects that engineers implement.
Want to learn more about PUC?
- Watch the video about the Ghana Project made by social work student Danielle Godlfarb
- Read the Cockrell School of Engineering article about how PUC students innovate water and energy solutions in Ghana