University Relations and Communications

Student group project culminates with benefits for learning as well as South Billings church

December 6, 2012


Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — Montana State University Billings is a place of teaching and learning. But elements of both often happen outside of the classroom.


students stand next to new water

One recent case in point involves seemingly incongruous elements:  A of handful of college students in a communications class; a group project assignment; a local plumbing supply company; and a South Billings church where only air was coming from the hot water faucets. 


Now that the fall semester is drawing to a close, the MSU Billings students learned how to pull together for a cause and the church learned the power of community.


“At first we thought this was an impossible task,” said Amanda Grubbs, a junior Communications and Theatre major from Billings. “But once you get a certain number of people together and focus on reaching a goal, you can get it done in no time.”


It all started a few weeks ago in a 200-level communications class that deals with group dynamics. As part of the class, the groups were told to find a local need that could be addressed with a collaborative, solutions-oriented process. The group of Grubbs and fellow juniors Steve Joiner, Chase Robertson, Leah Jones and Lisa Sobolewski teamed up and were determined to find something that would be different from efforts already underway in various social service sectors.


After running through some ideas that didn’t gain traction, Jones, who moved to Billings in May with her husband to serve as pastor of the Heritage Christian Center, noted the church has been operating without hot water.


Jones said she was hesitant to even bring up the need because it would appear self-serving. But Grubbs said the group decided working to provide a hot water heater for a congregation of 65 people and a church that serves as a gathering point on that part of town only made sense.  It was an easy decision to make, she said, since the group would be able to relate the idea to the class assignment and meet the needs of a specific part of the community.


Yet Jones still needed convincing. The 31-year-old and her husband had been doing ministry since they were both 18 years old and moved to Billings from Arizona. Jones’ father attended the church years ago and they have a strong affinity for the place. Since arriving in the spring, they have worked with other groups and the Heritage Christian Center does some outreach work with needy populations around Billings. The church has potluck dinners and the multipurpose room serves as a place for potlucks or other events as well as for two dozen children every week for Sunday School. The problem was, water had to be microwaved in one-gallon increments for five minutes at a time to get any hot water to clean things up.


More recently, the church was hit by vandals and nearly every outside window was broken. Money needed to be directed to get new windows, which made getting a professionally installed water heater — quoted at about $2,000 — was out of the question.


Still, Jones didn’t want to come across as pushing her own agenda.


“Then she missed class one day so that’s when we decided we would do Leah’s project,” Grubbs said, smiling broadly.


That got the ball rolling in late November. One person in the group had some plumbing background and contacted various vendors about parts that would put a new water heater in the church basement. Others in the group worked to find a business to donate a water heating unit.


“The problem was we were approaching Black Friday (the post-Thanksgiving day of sales bonanzas) and nobody wanted to take this on,” Grubbs said.


Then, after a late-November inquiry, Mountain Supply Co., a plumbing wholesale/retail company in Billings, stepped forward. The company donated a 40-gallon valued at $465 to the students. With another $130 in parts from another donor, the water heater was installed last week in a tight space on the western edge of the basement. 


Now, as the Joneses plan for this year’s Christmas play, hot water will arrive via the tap and clean-ups will be easy and any extra funds can be channeled into much-needed roof repairs.


For the students, they returned to their classroom this week with some valuable lessons. One lesson centered on group dynamics.


“It was a lot of work for all of us to be on the same page in this project,” Jones said. “If you don’t have a passion or any teamwork, then it stinks.”


Another lesson highlights the reach a collaborative project.


“This here will work out in the long term,” said Grubbs, gesturing to the newly installed water heater. “A lot of people will be affected by this.”


PHOTO ABOVE: MSU Billings students Amanda Grubbs, left, and Leah Jones were two students who worked on a group project to get a new hot water heater donated and installed at the Heritage Christian Center in South Billings. Jones’ husband is the pastor of the church which had been without hot water since they arrived in May. The project provided a valuable out-of-class learning experience for the students.