Community Engagement Through Design

Community Engagement Through Design: Collaboration with the Brazos Valley African American Museum

What is the Community Engagement Through Design (CETD)?

The Community Engagement Through Design is an ongoing community engagement program led by the College of Architecture Diversity Council (CARC-DC) at Texas A&M University. The program is a collaboration between the Brazos Valley African American Museum (BVAAM) and all four departments at the College of Architecture: Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning, Construction Science and, Visualization and beyond.

When did the program start?

The program started in 2012 and to date it has involved more than 400 students, faculty and community members through curriculum-based, collaborative projects in service of the Brazos Valley African American Museum. The priority of the program is to establish and maintain channels of communication, exchange and collaboration between the local African American community (which, as many others in the US, is not actively engaged in our campus)  and Texas A&M students mainly from the College of Architecture (but not exclusively) through socially responsible design and participatory planning and engagement activities.

How does the program work?

The program is based on the work of faculty members and graduate and undergraduate students. Faculty incorporate projects within their class syllabi according to the overall direction of the program, which is led by the CARC-DC and chaired by Dr. Cecilia Giusti, the CARC Associate Dean for Outreach and Diversity.  

The CARC-DC leads the overall coordination of projects and incentives for faculty and students to engage in the process and ensures the benefits for the community are aligned with current needs. Once a project is identified, in collaboration with BVAAM board of directors, it is either delivered through volunteer work, formal incorporation into course syllabi, or a combination of both. For a project to be incorporated into a class syllabus, faculty member takes the lead and aligns deliverables with learning objectives of a course (or in multiple courses depending on the magnitude of the project). In this way, students are engaged in the project as part of their learning process. In some cases, faculty member/student volunteers deliver directly to the needs of the Museum as an extracurricular activity. In both cases, the CARC-DC supports efforts ensuring synergy among extracurricular and curricular initiatives. This process involves negotiation and coordination at multiple levels. The program, while flexible is also structured as it accounts for different levels of participation among faculty and students.

What is the benefit of the program?

The benefits for students, at this predominantly white institution, include: exposure to real challenges faced by the African-American community within driving distance to campus that has been historically neglected; and hands-on experience with community engagement, socially responsible design, and participation techniques, which will are invaluable sources for their future careers.

The program provides an insight for the diverse community of Bryan - College Station on the power and limits of design and built environment professions in shaping just cities and inclusive environments. The benefits to the community - local stakeholders and the general public - are: increased access to, and collaboration with the university; increased exposure to the research, design and events on campus; pro-bono architectural proposals; design-built projects; fundraising and marketing strategies for the BVAAM, etc.

Overall, the Community Engagement Through Design offers a meaningful and mutually enriching collaboration between students at a historically white university and a local African-American community through the lenses of architecture, design, and participatory planning.



The program to date includes the following class-based projects in the College of Architecture:

Fall 2013

Scaled Models of Lost Original School Buildings

  • Class: ARCH/ PLAN/ VIZ (Grad)
  • Duration: Semester
  • Description: Recreation of scaled models from historic photographs of two “Black” high schools that were burned in the 1960s: Kemp and Lincoln (College Station Consolidated “Black” High School). Public presentation of Planning analyses of the history of Bryan, short film and accompanied public exhibition at the Wright Gallery, College Station.

Landscape Improvement Plan for Brazos Valley

  • Class: Landscape Design Studio (LAND 318)
  • Faculty: Dr. Changshan Huan, Dr. Jun-Hyun Kim
  • Number of students: 22
  • Duration: Semester
  • Description: Students created design proposals improving the surrounding of the museum building; the objective was to create a more welcoming area for community engagement opportunities.

Spring 2014

Project: Milky Way Phase I

  • Class: Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning- graduate student leaders of student organizations (Tactical urbanism, Association of Student Planners, Future Leaders in Urban Planning) & Graphic Communication
  • Lead student: Patrick Patterson
  • Number of participants: 60
  • Duration: Semester
  • Description: Milky Way is a Public Interest, Design-Build collaborative project between all departments of the College of Architecture to build a canopy from recycled materials for the BVAAM courtyard. The canopy was designed to be assembled with little training by community members and students on the site of the BVAAM. The project involved a collection of 3,000 milk jugs, cutting and assembly of 12,000 pieces by over 100 volunteers from local middle and high school from both cities and engaged citizens over the course of 8 Saturdays in October - November 2015. The efforts of collecting, storing, and then washing and cutting the milk jugs was a time-consuming and engaged many volunteers. What was needed was infrastructure (provided by the College of Architecture facilities and manpower, provided by numerous students, faculty and staff.

Fall 2014

Project: Milky Way Phase II

  • Class: Environmental Design- undergraduate (ENDS 105)
  • Faculty: Dr. Weiling He
  • Number of students: 20
  • Duration: Semester
  • Description: Phase II: Design research based in ENDS 105 architecture studio class under the supervision of Dr. Weiling He, prototypes were developed for a structural canopy made of recycled jugs to be assembled by community members with little training.

Project: Black Businesses in Bryan

  • Class: Local Economic Development and Planning - graduate level (PLAN)
  • Lead Faculty: Dr. Cecilia Giusti
  • Number of students: 25
  • Duration: Semester

Spring 2015

Project: Marketing Proposal for BVAAM

  • Class: Marketing Capstone- Final Project
  • Lead Faculty: Dr. Janet Turner Parish
  • Number of students: 15
  • Duration: Semester
  • Description: May’s School, Department of Marketing capstone class was assigned with improving marketing strategy of the BVAAM. Threee teams worked with BVAAM representatives to understand the organization’s history, current situation and future plans to deliver marketing suitable for the number of employees, annual budget, mission, target population, service area and income sources.

Project: Milky Way Phase III

  • Classes: Environmental Design (ENDS 106) and COSC - undergraduate
  • Lead Faculty: Dr. Weiling He (ENDS) & Dr. Edelmiro Escamilla (COSC)
  • Number of students: 50
  • Duration: Semester
  • Description: Cleaning and preparation of pieces for assembly. Volunteers from architecture and construction science departments took part in preparation of building material for assembly.

Fall 2015

Project: Milky Way Phase IV

  • Classes: Environmental Design Studio (ENDS 106) in collabortaion with COSC faculty
  • Lead Faculty: Dr. Weiling He, Dr. John Nichols
  • Number of studnets: 200
  • Duration: Semester
  • Description: Assembly and erection of the canopy on site of the BVAAM by over 200 volunteers from local middle and high school from both Bryan and College Station and engaged citizens over the course of 8 Saturdays in October - November 2015. The opening of the structure was organized as a celebration of the African American Museum and attracted dozens of faculty, students and community members to the museum.

Spring 2016

Project: Fundraising proposal for BVAAM

  • Classes: Environmental Design Studio (ENDS106) involved in B/CS Diversity Open Data BuildDay 2016
  • Lead Faculty: Rene Graham
  • Number of participants: 160 exposure (students, mentors, challengers, etc)
  • Duration: 24hours event
  • Description:Proposal for a fundraising strategy for the BVAAM involving a 10c donation set aside from each Texas A&M football game ticket sold to go towards funding the operations of the BVAAM. The project is in the process of implementation with the President of Texas A&M University.

Class presentation by BVAAM

  • Class: URPN 201 Evolving City
  • Lead Faculty: Gitta Pap
  • Number of students: 29
  • Duration: 1 class
  • Description: Presentation and discussion on African American Jazz and Blues in Bryan: music as a community shaping force.