SURI Service Projects Make 'Tangible Difference'
Institute Report, August 2012
John McDonald's project was one of two that were part of an initiative by the VMI Center for Undergraduate Research to fund research with a service-oriented component. He worked with a member of the VMI physical plant staff who is tasked with helping to reduce the amount of waste VMI sends to landfills. Cooperative efforts like these enhance the practical side of research.
"It's definitely a bridge I think we should be strengthening, between facilities and curriculum," said Maj. Jenny deHart, physical plant sustainability coordinator who served as one of McDonald's project mentors. "It's one that other universities are developing as they look to achieve goals in sustainability and other goals, including funding. A lot of funders are ... attracted to projects with links between academics and community, private and public, and also service-oriented projects."
And though the ultimate goal of creating a practical method of recycling plastic by using it in concrete will require much more research, deHart believes it is worth pursuing. Because concrete plants may be located in communities like Lexington, that are somewhat isolated from shipping routes and more populous areas, using plastic to make concrete may be an excellent way to recycle plastic locally instead of shipping it elsewhere.
"Concrete has a long life compared to other less durable goods that plastic might be turned into. ... What we're doing here, we're melting at low heat and then we're shredding, so that might be less energy intensive than other uses for recycled plastic, such as making fleece jackets. ... The more opportunities we have in general to recover this resource, this unwanted plastic, the better off we are."
"I am very excited about this year's SURI projects and extremely proud of all the students. I have an extra special place in my heart for the service-oriented projects, because I have always thought this is the kind of activity for which VMI should be known," said Lt. Col. Keith Kline, VCUR director. "It is consistent with the citizen-soldier ideal to which we aspire and has the potential to both positively impact society and transform the lives of our cadets."
Also working on a service-oriented SURI project this summer was Michelle McCusker '14, who worked with Col. Christina McDonald on "Rhetoric, Community, Advocacy: Making the Case for Sustainable Health Care in Rockbridge County."
"I love that, while these two cadets' research endeavors are disparate in focus, content, and methodology, they share the opportunity to make a real, tangible difference in the local community," concluded Kline.