Building science professor recognized with university Award for Excellence in Faculty Outreach

Published: February 14, 2020
Updated: February 18, 2020
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Scott Kramer offers Auburn University students much more than a chance to study abroad and earn class credit.

He offers them a chance to transform their lives and the lives of others.

“I think most people have a big heart—to serve and help others,” said Kramer. “A lot of times they just don’t know how. We provide that with these service learning classes.”

Kramer, the Atlanta BSCI Alumni Professor, has been part of the faculty in the McWhorter School of Building Science in Auburn’s College of Architecture, Design and Construction for 27 years, but it’s his outreach work in the last decade that has gotten him noticed by colleagues and students alike.

University officials noticed, too, recognizing him in 2019 with the Auburn University Award for Excellence in Faculty Outreach. The award honors the engagement of exemplary faculty members and demonstrates the tremendous impact outreach has on our community, state, nation and beyond.

For the last 10 years, Kramer has been taking students to Quito, Ecuador, for a week’s worth of service learning.

“I explain service learning to students in three parts,” he said. “It’s one-third a church mission trip, one-third a study abroad and one-third a Habitat [for Humanity] house because we are going to serve others, it’s an international trip and we are actually building something, like an afterschool program, a daycare center or affordable housing.”

Students opt for this trip—it is not a required class—but it is so popular, Kramer maintains a waiting list. He started going twice a year in 2015 to accommodate the student demand and do more for some of the poorest communities in South America.

Students don’t shy away from the intense physical labor required to complete the building projects. Everything—including pouring concrete—is done by hand, without the aid of power tools or heavy equipment.

It doesn’t deter Kramer either. This may not be where he expected his career to go, but it is right where he wants it to be.

Finding Auburn

Kramer’s high school counselor in Pennsylvania suggested he study civil engineering in college. When he started at Penn State University, he was the first person in his extended family to go to college.

His friends were at Auburn, though, and they tried hard to recruit him to the Plains. Kramer recalled getting off the interstate and seeing cows on both sides of the roadway. He had thought he took a wrong turn until he saw the university and fell in love.

Kramer stayed at Auburn long enough to earn two degrees—a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering in 1982 and Master of Science in civil engineering in 1983. He would earn a doctorate in learning design and technology from Purdue University in 2003.

After Auburn, Kramer worked in Dallas for nine years, building skyscrapers, hospitals and corporate office buildings. He then served as a visiting assistant professor at Ferris State University in Michigan for a year before he found his way back to the Plains.

Kramer’s tenure at Auburn has been long, considering almost half of the current faculty in the School of Building Science are his former students.

Finding a mission

Until 2010, Kramer devoted most of his work at Auburn to project management research, but that changed when he met Kathy Jo Ellison, the EAMC/Dr. Bill Lazenby Endowed Professor in the School of Nursing. Ellison had been taking nursing students to Quito with Servants in Faith and Technology, or SIFAT, a Lineville, Alabama-based nonprofit Christian organization, and she wanted Kramer to join. While Ellison and nursing students tended to the health care of women and children in the community, Kramer and his students would create a new building.

To call that first trip life-changing for Kramer would be an understatement. Seeing people living in such poor conditions literally drew him to tears. More importantly, it opened his heart to the service of others.

Kramer didn’t have millions of dollars to cure the extreme poverty, but he did have access to resources and students who could make a difference.

Ever since then, Kramer has been finding similar projects around the world, including building sustainable communities in Haiti with But God Ministries, conducting sustainable housing design in Panama with Auburn United Methodist Church and adapting a tube-steel house design in Cuba with Third Lens Ministries. He will travel to Ghana, Africa, this spring for his newest service learning class.

Kramer has accepted the fact that he is now synonymous with service learning, but he admitted, “It wasn’t my plan to begin with. I really wasn’t looking for it. It kind of found me.

“It meshes my love of travel, especially international travel, my love of designing and building and my love of serving others and helping students have a heart for serving others.”

Next steps

Kramer turns 60 in 2020, but shows no signs of slowing down. He works long hours between teaching, research and outreach, but his passion for building projects and service keep him going.

It’s one of those common phrases, but Kramer said it’s true: You always get more back than what you give.

“You hope you make a difference in a student’s life, whatever you teach,” he said. “With something like this where you’re actually going out of the country, serving others and seeing abject poverty, you hope you are making a difference.”

A few years ago Kramer started asking students who went to Ecuador to write a reflection paper on the experience. He regrets not asking it of the students who have made the trip from the beginning because students often call serving those in Quito “the most significant thing they’ve ever done in their life.”

“I have never ever had a student say I wish I hadn’t done this, or this was a waste of time,” Kramer said. “That’s my reward. That’s impactful learning.”