Lara Browning, project manager, and Elizabeth Gilboy, director of the Community Design Assistance Center in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech, received the university's 2015 Alumni Award for Outreach Excellence (team award).

With support from the Virginia Tech Alumni Association, the Alumni Award for Outreach Excellence is presented annually to recognize outstanding contributions by Virginia Tech faculty members who have extended the university's outreach mission throughout the commonwealth, the nation, and the world. Recipients are nominated by their peers, receive a $2,000 cash prize, and are inducted into the university's Academy of Outreach Excellence.

The Community Design Assistance Center, a college-level outreach center within the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, helps communities, civic groups, and nonprofit organizations improve their natural and built environments through research, community engagement, and interdisciplinary design. 

Through their work, Browning and Gilboy have enhanced the economic and social well-being of people in western Virginia and other parts of Appalachia.

“The teamwork of Gilboy and Browning serves as one of the brightest examples of our land-grant mission and outreach effectiveness,” Jack Davis, Reynolds Metals Professor and dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, wrote in his letter of nomination. “They are involved in projects that not only reach out to communities but also integrate local needs, influencing the environment and simultaneously reshaping it.”

Gilboy and Browning have carried out more than 35 projects over the past three years, and of those a Forest Competitive Grant provided them with the opportunity to focus on 17 in the coal mining regions of Kentucky and Virginia. These projects helped communities improve Appalachia economic development and environmental health. 

The center hired students from landscape architecture, architecture, forestry, horticulture, and urban and regional planning to work with community groups to develop designs for such projects as parks, campgrounds, visitor centers, community centers, outdoor learning landscapes, and trails.

“Not only are they working with individual communities, but they have also engaged in partnerships attempting to tackle large issues of economic viability and environmental sustainability on a regional level,” added Davis. “Through their partnership with others, their teamwork and leadership has fostered innovative means for impacting individuals, businesses, communities, and the environment."

Gilboy and Browning engage community members, which helps Community Design Assistance Center staff and students better understand community needs and helps community members work through their ideas, some of which may conflict with each other. The participatory process ensures that the design is one that balances creativity, practicality, and user needs and wants, and leads to a product that is practical.

In addition to aiding communities, the work by Gilboy and Browning gives students the opportunity to gain experience in designing real projects, to interact with clients, and to respond to local needs. Students learn about community-driven and participatory processes, work on multidisciplinary teams, present and facilitate meetings, and exercise their design skills.

Browning was interviewed in Episode Two of Save Our Towns, where she talked about her work with Virginia Tech students serving communities along the Clinch River.

A member of the Virginia Tech community since 2012, Browning received her bachelor’s degree from Wellesley College and a master of landscape architecture degree from the University of Georgia.

A member of the Virginia Tech community since 1990, Gilboy received her bachelor's degree from the University of Massachusetts and her master of landscape architecture degree from Virginia Tech.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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