Texas A&M architecture professors Valerian Miranda and Julie Rogers say that when students are involved in a project that gives back to the community, they develop a deeper connection with their work.
A group of 36 freshman architecture students recently submitted designs for the Ronald McDonald Family Room that will open at St. Joseph hospital later this year. Some of the designs will be incorporated into the project.
The Ronald McDonald House is a charity that allows families to stay close to their loved ones when they are hospitalized. A family room is a space where family members of patients — from infants in the NICU to 21-year-olds — can stay during the day or overnight, and usually features bedrooms, a living area, kitchen and laundry room.
“I think this is a win-win sort of thing,” Miranda said of the students’ work. “It’s a social cause. The students are still finding their way around. Most are 18, 19 years old, trying to figure out which way is north. And then they do something like this, where they might know somebody who has used something like the Ronald McDonald House, or had a similar experience with a sibling. It’s very tangible.”
Ronald McDonald House Charities approached the A&M architecture department about collaborating, Miranda said, because Brazos Valley residents were traveling to Austin to use their family room and house facilities. St. Joseph is the first of three area hospitals to receive funding for a family room. Two other area hospitals — The Med and Scott & White — should be getting family rooms soon, according to Katy Scott, director of community engagement for the charities.
The students were grouped into teams of two to four, and worked on their designs over a period of about three-and-a-half weeks. Rogers said the students were told that the space needed a seating area with a television, two bedrooms, kitchen and dining space, but were otherwise given leeway with adding features and personality to the room.
“Ronald McDonald House Charities was so blown away by the innovative ideas that the students came up with,” Scott said. “I was so proud to show my co-workers in Austin. Especially because the space at St. Joseph is an interior space, and they were really creative about bringing outdoor elements into the interior space.”
Before coming to work for Ronald McDonald House Charities, Scott said she used their family rooms when both of her children were born prematurely.
“It gave me a place to stay where I knew I was right down the hall from my child while my child was there for the long term,” Scott said. “Even if I wasn’t there for the night, I would go in every day and eat a free lunch, watch TV and visit with families that were going through the same thing I was going through. Because families are there with similar issues, it becomes a safe place for families.”
Miranda said this was another example of how the architecture department and A&M have placed an emphasis on “experiential learning” for students.
“It’s hugely impactful for them, and a lot of the design studios here will take on challenges like this — and not just domestically,” Rogers said. “Opening the students’ eyes to that is extremely beneficial. They really commit to the project when they see that the project is going to impact the community.”