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KNOXVILLE — University of Tennessee interior design students will soon travel to an orphanage in El Salvador with the hope of playing a key role in building its children a new home.

Students enrolled in assistant professor Meng-Kok Tan’s class in UT’s College of Architecture and Design will depart on December 14 for San Salvador, El Salvador to present designs to the board of La Casa de mi Padre, which is part of the Christian-run American organization, My Father’s House International.

Tan came up with the idea as a way to connect students to the needs of the rest of the world.

“My intent in undertaking this project was to align with and be part of the university’s initiative of promoting international and intercultural experiences to expand students’ global learning,” said Tan. “But more importantly, I wanted to create a service learning opportunity for students to be involved in projects that will benefit a larger community.”

In early September, eight students traveled to El Salvador to survey the proposed site and gain an understanding of the needs and objectives for the project.

“The students made visual observations through drawing and photography and interviewed essential agencies,” said Tan.

Since that initial trip, students have been working to design functional living and community spaces for the children. Four students will make a second trip to South America Dec. 14 to 20, to present design proposals to the board of directors and other personnel of La Casa de mi Padre.

In addition to the orphanage complex, they visited a Salvadoran university and various architecture and design firms in El Salvador to gather information about material resources and construction practices.

An important part of the process was to familiarize themselves with architectural procedures in El Salvador to understand the structure and typography of Salvadoran residences. These visits and research are necessary for the students to establish an understanding of the environment and available resources to find the best design solutions, said Tan.

Each student has paid for their own travel expenses to South America and the class has held several fundraising activities throughout the semester.

“With school tuition and the cost of living constantly rising, the students were barely able to set aside the money for the first trip and will not be able to return without the help of supporters,” said Tan. Tan said students are seeking assistance for their travel expenses which will cost about $2,500 each.

In addition to the students’ designs, the board of directors of My Father’s House International also will evaluate designs of Salvadoran architects. It will be up to the discretion of the board and local architects to decide whether they would adopt the students’ designs in full or partial, said Tan.

The project complements UT’s Ready for the World international and intercultural awareness initiative, a comprehensive effort to better prepare students to succeed in a global economy.

For more information on the El Salvador trip or to help fund student travel expenses, contact Carol Martin at or (865) 974-3262.


Beth Gladden, media relations, (865) 974-9008 or

Carol Martin, (865) 974-3262 or

Meng-Kok Tan, 974-5265 or