Bowman Creek Education Ecosystem – Q&A with Alicia Czarnecki

In July 2016, AliciaAlicia Czarnecki, University of Notre Dame student and Team Leader of Bowman Creek Educational System, shared with MetroLab Staff her experiences working with the community in developing smart green infrastructure. 

Tell us about the Bowman Creek Education Ecosystem?

South Bend and the University of Notre Dame were invited to be a part of the MetroLab Network because of their deployment of smart sewer technology. The University and the City along with many other partners make up the Bowman Creek Educational Ecosystem (BCe2) to work on adapting innovative applied technology research to create smart green infrastructure. The BCe2 Summer 2016 team consists of 20 high school and college students from 6 area educational institutions and representing 15 areas of study from Civil/Environmental Engineering to Sustainability to Anthropology to Urban Design. This diverse set of minds is working together to accomplish 9 major projects over the summer of 2016 that center on creating a smart, connected city where talent meets purpose.

What is your role?
I am serving as the BCe2 Summer 2016 Team Leader, which means that I worked with the organization advisors to decide the vision and direction for 9 major summer projects, define the project deliverables and facilitate the team member recruitment process. This summer, I planned the internship orientation, team building strategies and job enrichment experiences. I am also planning, organizing and directing the intern team efforts during the 10 week internship.

How did you get involved?
I was the team lead for a project with the Notre Dame Society of Women Engineers to create a pilot Vacant Lot Reuse Optimization this past year and was asked by the advisors to stay on to be the Team Leader for the BCe2 Summer 2016 team.

Why is this project exciting to you?
It is exciting to work with such a diverse and talented team alongside a very passionate neighborhood association to do meaningful work that produces tangible results. Our neighborhood has so many opportunities for improvement and it is exciting to see the talent and passion come together with a common purpose of making this a better place to live.

How has this experience differed from the “typical” internship?
In a “typical” summer internship, I would probably be working on small parts of one maybe two projects, but probably nothing in the critical path for project success. In this experience, I am in charge of planning 9 different projects and managing a team of 20 very diverse members as well as maintaining contact with our many stakeholders from the community, the City, the high schools and universities, and local business partners. It is probably a lot more challenging than the “typical” internship, but I am so excited for the preparation that this experience will give me for my intended career path.

What are the learning outcomes?
The diversity of this team and the work we are doing within the neighborhood gives a real world context that students do not get in university environment where teams tend to come from the same major, age group, and general worldview.

What is your message to universities that hope to get students involved in these types of projects?
The key to retaining talented students is to allow them to get engaged in meaningful and challenging projects early in their academic career to provide them opportunities to feel ownership of the community surrounding their university. It is important for students to know that there is a community outside of the “bubble” of their university, and on the flip side that they are a valuable part of helping that community to thrive.