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A Contextual Approach to Teaching Sustainability

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session I

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Robert L. Nagel James Madison University

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Dr. Robert Nagel is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering at James Madison University. Dr. Nagel joined the James Madison University after completing his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Oregon State University. He has a B.S. from Trine University and a M.S. from the Missouri University of Science and Technology, both in mechanical engineering. Since joining James Madison University, Nagel has helped to develop and teach the six course engineering design sequence which represents the spine of the curriculum for the Department of Engineering. The research and teaching interests of Dr. Nagel tend to revolve around engineering design and engineering design education, and in particular, the design conceptualization phase of the design process. He has performed research with the US Army Chemical Corps, General Motors Research and Development Center, and the US Air Force Academy, and he has received grants from the NSF, the EPA, and General Motors Corporation.

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Elise Barrella P.E. James Madison University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Elise Barrella is an Assistant Professor of Engineering at James Madison University, who focuses teaching, scholarship, service, and student mentoring on transportation systems, sustainability, and engineering design. Dr. Barrella completed her Ph.D. in Civil Engineering at Georgia Tech where she conducted research in transportation and sustainability as part of the Infrastructure Research Group (IRG). Dr. Barrella has investigated best practices in engineering education since 2003 (at Bucknell University) and began collaborating on sustainable engineering design research while at Georgia Tech. She is currently engaged in course development and instruction for the junior design sequence and the freshman design experience, along with coordinating junior capstone at JMU. In addition to the Ph.D. in Civil Engineering, Dr. Barrella holds a Master of City and Regional Planning (Transportation) from Georgia Institute of Technology and a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Bucknell University.

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Eric C Pappas James Madison University

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Eric Pappas is Professor of Integrated Science and Technology at James Madison University and formerly a faculty member in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech (1993-2003).

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Jesse Pappas James Madison University

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Jesse Pappas studied self-insight, intentional self-development, and the role of emotion in self-perception at University of Virginia, where he received a Ph.D. in social psychology in 2012. His dissertation project involved adapting established professional development tools to facilitate the personal and academic success of college students. Jesse currently serves as Assessment Director and Assistant Professor at Future Generations Graduate School. As a research fellow in the School of Engineering at James Madison University, he works to equip future scientists and engineers with the personal and social savvy they need to thrive in today’s complex professional environments.

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The goal of this project is to research sustainability across contexts (environmental, economic, social, technical, and individual) in order to determine the best methodologies for teaching these contexts across academic disciplines (in our case: engineering, integrated science and technology, psychology, education, English, and communication studies). We are working to determine the most effective ways in which to assess these methodologies using behaviors as educational outcomes. This research has focused on creating cognitive dissonance by demonstrating to students the difference between their stated values and behaviors across sustainability contexts. Key studies have focused primarily on individual sustainability, but smaller catalyst studies have also focused on the self-knowledge that informs decision making and problem solving, cultivating mindfulness as an approach to sustainable living, understanding the self as a sustainable system, promoting sustainable student and reader behaviors in literature, and changes in metacognitive strategies and exam performance by attribution status (among others). The final deliverable will be the first iteration of a low-cost scalable and transferable global model for instructional integration that will allow students and faculty to engage in meaningful and intentional self-development of behaviors in specific sustainability content areas.

Nagel, R. L., & Barrella, E., & Pappas, E. C., & Pappas, J. (2016, June), A Contextual Approach to Teaching Sustainability Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26297

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