How can landscape architects and planners apply the skills acquired through our academic training – and in the work we pursue in our careers – with the needs of underprivileged communities? This research proposed to answer this question through the lens of Community Service Learning (CSL) in Guatemala City, Central America. Specifically, a professor of landscape architecture and regional planning carried out an applied field studies class with eight graduate and undergraduate students to test principles of CSL. The work focused on the research, design, and application of a unique project; the start-up of a municipal composting facility that would divert organic waste from the largest landfill in Central America and use it to create high-quality compost. Principles of community service learning work experiences were taught and each student developed their own personal understanding of CSL through hands-on project work, over coming personal challenges, and self-reflection. The primary goals for the field studies class in CLS were:
To connect the emotional passion to effect change in the world, with the skills that students have acquired thus far in their educational career, and finally with the health, safety and welfare needs of underprivileged communities;
To learn how to plan, design, construct, and manage a municipal composting facility;
To learn how a municipal composting facility – which takes organic waste and converts it into usable compost – can directly improve the quality of life for one of the most impoverished neighborhoods of Guatemala City by employing at-risk youth;
To learn how to work and communicate with government officials and local people in a developing country such as Guatemala; and
To learn through the hands-on experience of a CSL project.
At the completion of the field studies class, students were required to discuss and analyze their experiences and reflect on how these experiences relate to their educational and professional careers in landscape architecture and regional planning.