Students use project to tackle real-world issue of homelessness | UTSA Today | UTSA

The architecture students submitted proposals, like they would in a professional setting for a chance to lead the design of the project. Some focused on creating a cozy space while others committed to an environmentally sustainable design, but all of the teams were asked to consider capacity for disability accommodations in their designs. Faculty and industry professionals from various fields reviewed the designs to determine which one would be developed into UTSA’s first tiny home.

The team focused on ADA-accessible design best practices for the 384-square-foot home, which they dubbed the Bento House. ADA-accessible countertops, storage and sliding doors—an efficiency feature given the limited space for door openings in the home—were all aspects that the students took into consideration during the design process. They are now waiting to begin construction, which they estimate will take only one semester.

“Having the opportunity to independently work on a home design, especially an ADA-accessible tiny home has been a great experience,” Maredia said.

The UTSA Big Heroes Tiny Homes project is one example of the many hands-on learning opportunities available to students through the university’s Classroom to Career initiative, which incorporates experiential learning, including internships, service learning, undergraduate research and study abroad to help students gain the hard and soft skills in demand by employers. These hands-on learning experiences are particularly important in linking classroom success to life after graduation for historically underserved populations such as the diverse student body at UTSA.

As part of its strategic plan, UTSA aims for 75% of its undergraduate students to participate in some type of experiential learning by the time they graduate.

“The coolest thing about this project is it’s drawing together expertise from all these different majors,” Schaefer said. “When you get out into the industry within your discipline, a big problem is that we don’t talk to each other or listen to each other. So, for me, as a civil engineer, hearing about the architectural design and the challenges when it comes to construction was cool to encounter so early in my career.”

The Klesse College of Engineering and Integrated Design encourages collaboration between students pursuing degrees in architecture, civil engineering, construction science and management, interior design and more to achieve project goals—including enriching a students’ experience in cross-discplinary interactions to prepare them to work alongside varying specialities in the post-graduation world.

Big Heroes Tiny Homes is a trademark program that initially began with Humble ISD students in Houston, Texas. Dedicated to assisting homeless veterans find shelter, the project has gained momentum nationwide, with UTSA being the first to adopt the project outside of Houston. 

Since launching last summer at UTSA, the program has provided a way for students at the college to invest in their community while working toward their desired career goals.

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