Community engaged learning: Blueprint Columbus and senior capstones

Image of zoom meeting for Blueprint Columbus partnership

Community engaged learning: Blueprint Columbus and senior capstones

By Ben Lewis, Director of Communications

Communities experiencing population, climatic and other major changes are frequently seeking to build green infrastructure to improve the functioning of basic municipal services while also improving the quality of the local environment. Blueprint Columbus is an innovative way of eliminating sanitary sewer overflows while also investing in neighborhoods and the local economy. A partnership with Ohio State through multiple capstone courses has helped the program improve outreach and engagement in Columbus Neighborhoods.

Blueprint Columbus was started as a new approach to an old problem. The city's sanitary sewer system works well most of the time, but rain water and snow melt can seep into the system and overload it. When this occurs, the amount of water entering the sanitary sewer system exceeds the system's capacity to hold it, causing basement backups and sewer overflows into rivers and streams. So the city has developed a new approach to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows. Instead of simply storing excess water that seeps into the sanitary sewer system when rain falls and snow melts, Blueprint Columbus addresses the source of the problem by directing it into the storm sewers where it belongs.

Ohio State partners with the city through two capstone courses that focus on different aspects of Blueprint Columbus. The courses are taught by Matt Hamilton, assistant professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources and Ryan Winston, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering and the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering.

Hamilton said the capstone classes are unlike conventional courses.

"A key element of the capstone model is that students design and implement projects in groups," he said. "These projects offer opportunities to apply skills and knowledge from prior coursework or other experiences."

Hamilton also said the courses give students a chance to interact with professionals in a variety of professional settings and make a real difference in the community.

The professors partner with Leslie Westerfelt, communications coordinator for Blueprint Columbus, on the capstone courses.

"We gain a lot from the capstones," she said. "They are helpful for the students, but also helpful for us. The most immediate benefit we get is that fresh perspective. Students help with new ways to talk about the program, new ways of looking at it, as well as gaps in our services and strategies. They are just critically valuable to us."

Westerfelt says the Blueprint Columbus team views the collaboration as professional development for this emerging workforce that they hope will be working on Blueprint. It is both helping students understand public infrastructure projects and making sure the students are aware of the growing field of green infrastructure.

Blueprint Columbus is a 30-year project administered by the City of Columbus Department of Public Utilities that will impact 50,000 homes in 21 project areas, covering 18,404 acres.

The Blueprint Columbus partnership was featured at the December monthly meeting of the Environmental Professionals Network.

Click here to view the full presentation.