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Pennsylvania State University

November 2, 2011

Two undergraduate students from Penn State’s H. Campbell and Eleanor R. Stuckeman School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture are meeting with legislators in Harrisburg as part of the Undergraduate Research at the Capitol event.

Undergraduate Research at the Capitol (URC) brings together college students, faculty, and Pennsylvania legislators to share the experiences of students engaged in research or scholarship at their colleges and universities. The October 18 URC-PA gives students an opportunity to present posters about their work at the Capitol Building, and for students and faculty mentors to meet with legislators and their staffs.

An entry submitted by Bryan Heritage, a fifth-year Architecture student, and Abigail Thomas, a fifth-year Landscape Architecture student, was one of four posters selected to represent Penn State.

The students’ poster, The River Town Assessment Tool: A Process to Revitalize River Towns in the Susquehanna Valley, showcases their work on the River Town Assessment process, a joint program of the Hamer Center for Community Design at Penn State; the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership; and SEDA-Council of Governments (SEDA-COG), a public development organization serving 11 central Pennsylvania counties. Their faculty advisor was Mallika Bose, director of the Hamer Center. 

As Hamer Center interns this past summer Heritage and Thomas worked with the River Town Project’s partners to finalize the assessment process,  which provides direction for communities’ long-term sustainable development as river towns. They then worked with stakeholder groups in Shickshinny and Montgomery to pilot test the tool, using it to create designs that reflected the community members’ visions.

This involved participation in community meetings and mapping—leading to the creation of town inventories of strengths and weaknesses, and group assessments regarding assets of each town. Preliminary reports were shared with each community and presentations are planned for the fall semester. Feedback from reviews and presentations will be incorporated into final reports that will be shared with each community. 

The students’ work provided a solid foundation for the continuation of the River Town Project and its potential replication throughout the Susquehanna river valley, helping other river towns achieve their potential. Ultimately, these communities will receive ongoing assistance from the River Towns Project, enabling the development of programs for recreational, environmental, and economic enhancement.

The students’ research is focused specifically on Susquehanna river towns, but its relevance extends to the revitalization of former industrial towns throughout the state, Heritage said. While the history of these towns may be rooted in industry, their future prosperity demands new thinking—and, often, a focus on tourism. “It’s not about creating Disneyland,” he said. “It’s creating a place that’s interesting to visit and also live as a permanent resident.”

In addition to meting with legislators, the students will have an opportunity to see how their peers react to their findings. “Obviously we see the relevance in our research,” Thomas said. “But I’m looking forward to seeing how the general public connects to it.” 

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