Experiential learning project benefits Blue Lotus, helps students develop MSOE Mindset
The Blue Lotus Farm and Retreat Center near West Bend, Wisconsin has a new bath house complete with a hydraulic-assisted lift table, wash station and changing area thanks to the work of five MSOE students. Blue Lotus serves those with profound life challenges of any age by providing accessible outdoor recreational and therapeutic opportunities in a caring, accepting and inspiring 64-acre day camp setting. Ethan Buechel, Willem Gauthier, Maxwell Jenney, Jeff Makowski and Justin Meseberg, all construction management majors, took on the bath house as their senior design project. Assistant Professor Mark Rounds was their faculty advisor.
Every year seniors in all degree programs complete a capstone project that incorporates all that they’ve learned during their time at MSOE. Construction management students typically are part of an interdisciplinary senior design team that includes architectural engineering and/or civil engineering majors. The bath house project was unique in that all the students were majoring in construction management. From November 2020 through May 2021, they were responsible for all aspects of the project from idea to completion. MSOE’s CREATE Institute supported this group by curating and providing logistical assistance.
“Lives are changed by this organization. Bettering [visitors’] time and experience here is fantastic,” Buechel said of the project. “Knowing we’re making a positive impact not just today or tomorrow but 10 years down the line is wonderful.”
The team enlisted the help of Ramlow/Stein Architecture + Interiors to design the facility; worked with the village of Trenton, Wisconsin to get zoning approval and permits; and contracted with landscapers, electricians, carpenters, plumbers and laborers to bring the project to life. Students served as the construction/project managers and oversaw the entire project and its budget, often rolling up their sleeves to pitch in and help.
“There’s something about when we call on MSOE that there’s a guarantee and relaxedness. We just know that the students get the backing to do it right and we enjoy watching the students take it, embrace it and treat us like clients,” said Jacqueline Janz, executive director of Blue Lotus. “They’re already doing professional work, so they are well set to go off into the job world, wherever they go.”
The new bath house and changing area is equipped with a hydraulic-assisted lift table to make it easier for campers and their caregivers when changing in and out of swim clothes. This is the latest in a series of projects MSOE students have completed at Blue Lotus over the past 13 years. MSOE began working with Blue Lotus when then-student Alison Bernero ’10 answered a request for help from Blue Lotus’ founders, Fred and Susan Bliffert, to build a large deck and boardwalk. Since then, hundreds of MSOE students have had the opportunity to apply the knowledge they gain in the classroom to serve the Blue Lotus community as they develop the MSOE Mindset.
The relationship is rooted in servant-leadership and is further cultivated by the CREATE Institute at MSOE. The CREATE Institute fosters the growth of the MSOE Mindset by strengthening students’ entrepreneurial mindset and the servant-leader philosophy that transforms students into community builders and ethical professionals.
“Blue Lotus was my first experience with project-based learning as a faculty member – it opened my eyes to the benefits of bringing real-world learning to our students and planted the seed to what is now the CREATE Institute,” said DeAnna Leitzke, director of the CREATE Institute. “I am thankful to the opportunities that this relationship has created for our students. Blue Lotus’ founders, Fred and Susan Bliffert, are outstanding community partners to MSOE!”
Over the years MSOE students have led the design and construction of a handicap-accessible dock, 52-by-30-foot wheelchair-accessible observation deck, 10-food wide boardwalk around much of the lake, and a walkway connecting the deck with the farm pavilion. Other projects include building a pergola and benches for the boardwalk and adding lighting on the deck. The floating dock allows canoes to be lifted onto the dock, making it easier for wheelchair-bound campers to be lifted into their canoes. There also is a swimming pool on site—complete with lighting installed by MSOE students and brick pavers at the entrance.
Every year, dozens of students volunteer at spring and fall clean-up days to nurture our relationship with Blue Lotus and inspect work completed by students in previous years. Not only is project-based experiential learning at the heart of the CREATE Institute, it is also an institutional resource for industry engagement and academic excellence.
The CREATE Institute is a bridge between MSOE and external partners to curate real-world projects for faculty to bring into their classrooms. For more information please visit msoe.edu/create or call (414) 277-2201.