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A Real-World Approach to Introducing Sustainability in Civil Engineering Capstone Design

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Sustainability in Civil Engineering Education: Service Learning, Capstone Integration, Student Affect and Rating Systems

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Paper Authors


Leslie R. Brunell P.E. Stevens Institute of Technology (School of Engineering and Science)

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Leslie Brunell, PhD, PE is a Teaching Professor at Stevens Institute of Technology. She coordinates both the civil and multidisciplinary engineering senior design projects. These projects are the culmination of the undergraduate engineering experience. Students design an innovative solution to a complex problem. She has recruited professional sponsors who mentor the civil engineering design projects. The projects expose the civil engineering students to real world design problems. The students gain first hand experience communicating professionally, developing schedules, meeting deadlines and preparing professional quality reports and presentations. Prof. Brunell is the director of the Water Resouces graduate program. She also teaches Fluid Mechanics, Surveying and Water Resources.

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While completing their senior year Capstone Design project, Civil Engineering undergraduate students are required to evaluate engineering solutions to real world design problems. Students work with professional mentors to develop solutions to relevant real-world issues. They are encouraged to develop innovative designs which meet all regulatory standards and design objectives. The Capstone coordinator works closely with the professional mentors to ensure that each design project meets ABET criteria as well as the ASCE Body of Knowledge (BOK). Recent changes to ABET criteria, and proposed changes to the ASCE BOK both focus on sustainability. They emphasize the need for students to gain an understanding of the impact engineering solutions have in global, economic, environmental and societal contexts. Students are required to understand the shifts in the global population and the increasing demands for energy, transportation, drinking water and the need for improved infrastructure.

This paper focuses on how using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals along with the ASCE Envision Rating System will increase Civil Engineering undergraduate students’ awareness of sustainability as they complete their capstone designs. The 13 design projects all focus on the design of infrastructure; vehicular and pedestrian bridges, mixed use multi story buildings, flood control projects and a hydro-power dam. Prior to beginning the design process, each student was required to evaluate the proposed design and plan to meet at least one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This resulted in each design team working to address at least one of these goals. These goals will be incorporated into the proposed design which will also considered the Envision rating system. Students expanded their focus beyond the design to consider the overall plan, construction, maintenance and life cycle of the project. The incorporation of both criteria helped to guide student decisions, evaluate the environmental impact of their designs and address the benefits the proposed design had on their respective communities. Students were encouraged to be creative and think “outside of the box” when developing their design solutions.

Student surveys will be conducted throughout both semesters to assess student understanding of sustainability as it relates to their projects. These surveys will align with both the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Envision Rating system. The Envision Rating System will serve as a guide for the student teams as they develop their design solutions and improve the sustainability of the proposed design.

The professional mentors working with the student teams will be asked to assess the applicability of the selected UN goals and the Envision Rating system to the proposed design. The impact of these two sustainability systems on the design will be examined with respect to the environment, societal benefit and economics. When applicable, comparisons will be made between the design developed by the student team and that proposed by the professional mentor. This comparison may provide added educational benefits as it will further illustrate the limitations of real-world design solutions.

Brunell, L. R. (2019, June), A Real-World Approach to Introducing Sustainability in Civil Engineering Capstone Design Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida.

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