Students turn lot into neighborhood attraction, with help from UWM and others

Residents of Sherman Park have a new place to meet and enjoy being outdoors, thanks to students from nine Milwaukee Public Schools who helped design and build a new community gathering spot at 55th and Center streets. They’re calling it Postage Stamp Park, a nod to the post office next door to the formerly vacant lot.

Students worked under the guidance of teachers and mentors from around the city taking part in the NAF Future Ready Scholars program led by UWM faculty members and staff from the School of Architecture & Urban Planning and College of Engineering & Applied Science.

The culminating project, which included designing and constructing chaise-style lounges and planters, was informed by community input.

MPS student Damari Spears waters flowers at the grand opening. (UWM Photo/Oliver Johnson)

“We talked to a variety of community members to get ideas. One big thing they said is that they didn’t want a playground because this is such a busy road,” said Zion Owusu-Yeboa, a student at Ronald Reagan High School. “So even though that is what we originally planned, we modified our vision because of what the community wanted.”

The students also designed a site plan to help the community work toward its goal of making the city-owned lot into a place where neighbors can meet, relax and enjoy nature. Recommendations developed by students in the site plan include walking paths, a Little Free Library and additional landscaping. The students hope that the community continues to work on improving the lot using their ideas.

“This is just the start for this particular lot,” said Mabel Lamb, executive director of Sherman Park Community Organization and a 23-year resident of the neighborhood. “We want to take these lots and eliminate vacancies and deteriorating properties. We’re super excited about what’s happening here and to work with the students. It’s been excellent.”

Zion Owusu-Yeboa (right), a student at Ronald Reagan High School, said the group modified its plans based on feedback from neighborhood residents. With him is Ethan Erenz, a UWM student who served as camp counselor. (Photo courtesy of MPS/Alvin Connor)

This was the second year for the NAF Future Ready Scholars summer camp, which gives high school juniors and seniors the chance to learn STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills while learning how architecture and engineering are used in real-life projects. Students in the camp last summer built structures at a community garden in Milwaukee’s Metcalfe Park neighborhood.

In addition to the hands-on construction experience under the guidance of faculty, staff and mentors, students participated in college and career readiness sessions. The 20 students spent a night in a UWM residence hall to get a glimpse of college life.

“This gave me a really good idea of what studying architecture and engineering is really like,” said Mei Lan Wang, a student at South Division High School. She enjoyed learning from current UWM students who served as camp counselors.

“I used to think architecture was only math – and it is some math – but it’s also about your creativity and your vision. I’m definitely more interested now,” she added.

Mo Zell, interim dean of UWM’s College of the Arts and Architecture (Photo courtesy of MPS/Alvin Connor)

NAF is a national network of education, business and community leaders that aims to transform the high school experience to prepare students for college, career and future success. The Future Ready program started in 2019 at the University of California, Berkeley, with UWM just the fourth university in the country to be selected as a site. For NAF, the Milwaukee program was also the first time Future Ready offered an architecture focus.

The summer camp program included partners from UWM’s School of Architecture & Urban Planning, UWM’s College of Engineering & Applied Science, Milwaukee Public Schools, Milwaukee Area Technical College, NAF, Sherman Park Community Association and Sherman Park ECO. MPS, UWM and MATC collaborate through the M3  initiative.

Additional support and mentorship for the project was provided by Milwaukee Tool, Gilbane, Eppstein Uhen Architects, Women in Design-Students and the American Institute of Architecture Students.

More in Arts & Humanities

Top Stories