TCU Magazine: Service-Learning Program Connects Students with Community


An excerpt from the cover story of TCU Magazine’s Summer 2019 issue:

One of Boyd’s favorite aspects of overseeing the service-learning program is facilitating relationships among faculty and departments. “Sometimes it’s hard for someone to think what a service-learning component might be for something like English or history, but there are so many possibilities.”

Boyd is gratified when her office supports interdisciplinary projects such as Restorying the Trinity River, which brings together courses in anthropology, art and geography to examine ways to increase community engagement with the river that runs through Fort Worth. The project started in the spring semester and will continue through the 2019-20 academic year.

“The problem behind the project is that people often feel disconnected from the natural world,” said Dave Aftandilian, associate professor of anthropology. “Because there are no big problems in the world that we can solve from just one discipline’s perspective, this became an interdisciplinary project.”

Aftandilian, who directs the human-animal relationships minorreached out to the Trinity River Vision Authority and the Tarrant Regional Water District, which supplies water to more than 2 million people in Fort Worth, Arlington and Mansfield, Texas.

“Among [the regional water district’s] top goals are getting people to use the Trinity more for recreation, and we thought we might be able to help,” Aftandilian said.

Paris Acklen, an art major, paints on a dry spot in the middle of a waterfall as TCU art students use a variety of media to create artwork at Airfield Falls Conservation Park. Photo by Rodger Mallison


Two studio art professors embraced the project’s main concept and added their courses to the effort.

In April, Adam Fung, associate professor of art, took his studio art class out to paint en plein air at Airfield Falls Conservation Park, the site of the only natural waterfall near Fort Worth. Some of the students’ artwork will be printed on vinyl wraps.

The regional water district plans to use those wraps to help beautify siphons and junction boxes throughout the trail. “We also hope future students might come out and paint directly on structures like pump stations, which are concrete and metal and not very aesthetically pleasing,” said Tina Nikolic, neighborhood and recreation enhancement coordinator for the Tarrant Regional Water District.

At the waterfall, Nick Bontrager, associate professor of new media art, had his students use a piece of high-tech equipment on loan from the university’s Department of Geological Sciences to laser-scan the waterfall to within a millimeter of accuracy. Other undergraduates recorded the sounds of the river and the falls or shot video above and below the water.

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