Projects with Underserved Communities
Projects with Underserved Communities (PUC) is a unique program at The University of Texas at Austin that combines the two challenges of community need and student enrichment in an innovative project-based, service-learning collaboration between Texas Global, the Cockrell School of Engineering, and the Steve Hicks School of Social Work.
At a Glance
Engineering and social work undergraduate students
Cockrell School of Engineering, Steve Hicks School of Social Work
Projects with Underserved Communities Coordinator
History of Impact
Launched in 2010, PUC uses an innovative yearlong course sequence to hone students’ leadership skills and cultural competency—both vital when competing in an increasingly global job market—while providing much-needed services to communities in developing countries. Projects have been successfully implemented in partnership with communities in Mexico, Peru, Ghana, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, India, and Thailand.
Teams served more than 18,300 people with projects including:
- Creating access to clean water sources
- Improving and increasing sustainable cooking stoves
- Increasing accessibility for community members with disabilities
- Increasing sanitation
- Creating solar power for malnourished children's clinic
- Adding health clinics
- Expanding community learning and resource center with computers
How It Works
PUC combines rigorous coursework with hands-on, practical experience. Engineering and Social Work students participate in a year-long course while researching and designing projects in response to community needs. They collaborate with a local partner and travel to the community to implement the project during the summer following the completion of the academic course.
Find out more about our:
Fall: ES 277K - Project Development with Underserved Communities
Spring: ES 277L- Project Design with Underserved Communities
Summer: ES 177L - Project Implementation with Underserved Communities
Skills gained through PUC
- Project management
- Project design
- Collaboration with partners in the local communities
- Cultural awareness
- Community engagement and event coordination
- Public speaking and presentation
PUC 2021-22 Projects
Learn about the 2021-22 PUC projects by visiting each team's blog and watching their project fundraising videos:
Apply for PUC
The 2022-2023 application for PUC is now open. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis.
Help empower students and communities in need by making these projects possible by contributing your time, expertise, or financial support.
By volunteering your time and lending students your technical expertise, you help shape future professionals while assisting a community in need.
Your financial contribution directly supports the purchase of project materials. Every donation, no matter how big or small, has a profound impact on both the Longhorn nation and the communities served.
For the first project, students designed and built a Polyhouse Solar Dryer to reduce the drying time required for milling Mesquite Pods. Read about the 2018-2019 project. Read about the 2018 to 2019 project.
The Thailand team built a new kitchen for the Ban Thap Ta Thaen school located in the Suphan Buri Province of Thailand. Read about the 2018-2019 project.
For the first project, the team constructed six housing foundations for the formerly nomadic Narikuravar community. Read about the 2014 to 2015 project.
For the second project, students designed, raised funds, and helped build the Anganwadi Community Center and children's toilet. Read about the 2015-2016 project.
For the third project, students built a community center in the village of Packianathapuram to provide multiple services: economic empowerment for farmers, literacy resources for women and children, and an open platform for discussing community issues. Read about the 2016-2017 project.
For the fourth project, students designed and constructed a multipurpose learning center in Sirupinayur, a village in Tamil Nadu, India. Read about the 2018-2019 project.
For the first project, the Tanzania team worked in Tanga to install a water harvesting system for a rural community. Read about the 2013-2014 project.
For the second project, the team helped build a latrine for the visually impaired girls' dormitory. Read about the 2014-2015 project.
For the third project, UT students raised money for construction of the matron’s cottage in order to expand dormitory space for girls at Pongwe Primary School. Read about the 2015-2016 project.
For the first project, the Nicaragua team designed and built a new bathroom and septic tank system. Read about the 2013-2014 project.
For the second project, UT students constructed ramps to allow persons in wheelchairs to access the clinic and the latrine that had been completed in the previous project. Read about the 2014-2015 project.
Costa Rica (2013-2014)
This project involved designing and building stadium seating around an open air basketball court to create a community center for a primary school in Costa Rica. Read more
Papua New Guinea (2012-2013)
The Papua New Guinea project successfully provided improved access to clean water for over 500 people. Read more
Projects for Underserved Communities Team Angola partnered with Bechtel, one of the largest leaders in engineering, construction, and project management, on the Angola Legacy Project for Bairro Fina School No. 68 in Soyo, Angola. Read more
The team provided portable water via a new distribution system to the only school in Santa Cruz, Peru. Read more
International PUC Partners
The Projects with Underserved Communities program would not be possible without the support of its incredible NGO partners abroad and financial support from family and friends, corporate sponsors, and various non-profits and organizations that share the mission and values of PUC.
Current International Project Partners
- New Life Church
- Siempre Amigos
- Tejiendo Alianzas
- Church's Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA)
Project Donors and Supporters
- Afren Plc
- Terracon Consultants, Inc.
- Ek Disha
- The Rizwan Adatia Foundation
- LNV, Inc.
Courses are taught by Cockrell School of Engineering Faculty, who provide guidance throughout project development.
- John S. McLeod, Ph.D., P.E, fall PUC course professor
- Martin Rumbaugh, P.E., BCEE, Senior Project Manager at AECOM, spring PUC course professor
- Janet Ellzey, Ph.D., P.E., Department of Mechanical Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering, Engineering Foundation Centennial Teaching Fellow in Engineering No. 2
- James O'Connor, Ph.D., P.E., C. T. Wells Professor in Project Management, fall PUC course professor
In addition to course instructors, faculty advisors closely work with students outside of formal class time.
- Calvin Streeter, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., Professor, Steve Hicks School of Social Work
- Tonya Voss, MSSW, Clinical Professor and Assistant Dean for Field Education, Steve Hicks School of Social Work
Technical and Cultural Advisers
Each team is accompanied by a technical advisor to the project site, who ensures the quality and integrity of the project and assists students with technical questions that may arise during implementation. Technical advisors also provide guidance to students throughout the process of concept selection and design. Cultural advisors provide guidance on cultural norms and expectations so students can better navigate community relationships.
- Ken Hanks, P.E., Senior Structural Engineer, Jose L. Guerra Inc., India 2015/2016/2017/2019
- Joe Luke, P.E., SECB, Senior Structural Engineer, LCRA, Costa Rica 2014, Nicaragua 2015, Guatemala 2017
- Mary Lou Ralls Newman, P.E., Ralls Newman, LLC, Tanzania 2014 & 2015, Guatemala 2016, Thailand 2019
- Julie Westerman, M.Ed., Program Coordinator UT Education Abroad and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer 2010-2012, Nicaragua 2014
- Justin Davis, Ph.D. student, MSE in Environmental Engineering, University of Texas, Ghana 2013 & Nicaragua 2014
- Neil Higa, P.E., Water/Wastewater Engineer at AECOM; Papua New Guinea 2013
- Tim Bailey, M.S.W., Community Development Program Coordinator at Glimmer of Hope; Ghana 2012 and 2013
- Gordon Townsend, P.E.
- Kate Tomlinson, P.E., LEED AP BD+C, Walter P. Moore; Tanzania 2016
- O.A. Ezekoye, Ph.D., P.E., Professor Department of Mechanical Engineering
- Martin Rumbaugh, P.E., BCEE, Senior Project Manager at AECOM; Peru 2010 and Papua New Guinea 2013
- David Powell, Principal of P.E., Structural Consultants, Inc; Thailand 2017, Mexico 2019
- Cameron Oden, Thailand 2019
Service Learning Board (SLAB)
In addition to faculty and technical advisor support, students receive support from an advisory board comprised of university and industry representatives. Students present their progress to SLAB in formal presentations throughout the year.
- James O'Connor, Ph.D., P.E., C. T., Cockrell School of Engineering
- Janet Ellzey, Ph.D., P.E., Cockrell School of Engineering
- Joe Luke, P.E., SECB, Senior Structural Engineer, LCRA
- Calvin Streeter, Ph.D., UT Steve Hicks School of Social Work
- Tonya Voss, MSSW, Steve Hicks School of Social Work
- Jimmy Canning, BSCE, Senior Technical Advisor, ExxonMobil
- Mary Lou Ralls Newman, P.E., Ralls Newman, LLC
- Martin Rumbaugh, P.E., BCEE, Senior Project Manager, AECOM
- Helena Wilkins Versalovic, Director, UT Cockrell International Engineering Education
- Randy Penson, Global Risk & Safety Director, UT Austin Texas Global
- Kate Tomlinson, P.E., LEED AP BD+C, Walter P. Moore
- Andrew Domke, Geotechnical Department Manager for Professional Service Industries
- Ken Hanks, P.E.
- Makenzie Kuntz, P.E.
- Joanette Aird, B.Sc.
- Nina Lobo
- Ron Tigue
- Julie Westerman, M. Ed