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Penn State students hope to reshape Hazelwood

| Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, 7:30 p.m.

STATE COLLEGE — When Penn State student Jessica Fegley arrived in Pittsburgh's Hazelwood neighborhood, she worried that she wouldn't be able to help the people enduring economic hardships.

After all, the 21-year-old Palmerton native armed with a knack for landscape design does not have a college degree but was tasked with helping the community conceptualize what it could become.

“To step off the van and see it, see the abandoned buildings, and know how wealthy the town had once been — how can I, as a student, actually do something that could help these people?” she said.

Fegley was among a dozen landscape architecture students from Penn State who took the school's “Pittsburgh Studio” course this semester, a five-credit class that provides seniors with opportunity to design projects for communities. Sometimes, their ideas become reality.

Since 2008, Penn State professor Ken Tamminga, in cooperation with the Penn State Center in Pittsburgh, has brought students into Pittsburgh to interact with residents.

This year the group went to Hazelwood, where Fegley found she could make a difference once she met people.

She came up with landscaping plans for the Hazelwood Library, which is being renovated.

That idea, or one from a classmate, will become reality. City Councilman Corey O'Connor, who attended the students' final presentation to Hazelwood residents, told the school that he set aside $10,000 to implement one idea from the class. It hasn't been chosen.

Tamminga said the opportunity the Pittsburgh Studio provides is unique: Students learn about life while learning about design.

Penn State Center acts as liaison between the students and residents and companies in Pittsburgh.

Center Director Deno De Ciantis said Penn State has harnessed something special with this project, beyond extracting information from a community.

“I think that our role, and the role of engaged scholarship, is to really make sure that there is a balance,” he said. “Not only are students gaining experience, but there is something tangible left behind for the community.”

Fegley knows her library landscape design might not become reality, but she believes she left behind some hope.

“I think they were inspired,” she said. “I think that, in part, is just as important as anything we created. It gives them a new hope for their town. That alone can really help spark something special.”

Anna Orso is a freelance reporterbased in State College.

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