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Achieving Graduate Competencies Through An Authentic Design Experience In A Wastewater Treatment Course

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Effective Learning Innovations in Civil Engineering Courses

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.165.1 - 12.165.12



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Paper Authors


Brock Barry Purdue University

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Doctoral Student, Department of Engineering Education

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Sybil Sharvelle Purdue University

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Postdoctoral Research Associate, School of Civil Engineering

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M Katherine Banks Purdue University

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Professor and Head, School of Civil Engineering

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Sean Brophy Purdue University

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Assistant Professor, Department of Engineering Education

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William Oakes Purdue University Orcid 16x16

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Associate Professor, Department of Engineering Education

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Achieving Graduate Competencies through an Authentic Design Experience in a Wastewater Treatment Course Abstract

Developing professional competencies require learning experiences that simulate authentic practice. A wastewater treatment course at a large, research university converted a portion of its traditional lecture and homework model of instruction to a challenge-based model of instruction culminating in a redesign project. The course used a series of challenge-based modules as a precursor to learners’ synthesis of a design report and presentation to a corporate client. A nearby pharmaceutical company acted as a “perspective client” and issued a formal request for proposal (RFP) to the students, who were organized into “consulting companies.” In addition to fundamental learning objectives related to wastewater treatment, opportunities to develop and demonstrate professional competencies were integrated into all aspects of the problem-based learning experience. Learners made gains in their knowledge about wastewater and demonstrated excellent professional skills in their written and oral reports.


Graduates of our engineering programs are lacking the professional skills that are highly desired by employers. Industry-based surveys appear to indicate that engineering graduates, in the United States, are technically savvy; however, they are concerned with professional competencies of the students coming from our engineering colleges and universities. In 1993, Todd, Sorenson, and Magleby1 presented the results of a nation-wide survey of industry perceptions of engineering graduates. The weaknesses identified in their survey included: • Lack of design capability and creativity, • Lack of appreciation for considering alternatives, • Poor perception of the overall engineering process, • Weak communication skills, and • Little skill or experience with working in teams.

Sageev and Romanowski2 conducted a survey to evaluate the impact that communication skills had on the professional careers of engineering graduates. Their survey of 208 individuals indicated that 32% of the engineer’s work time is dedicated to written communication, 10% oral presentations, and 22% other forms of oral communication. That amounts to 64% of the engineer’s time relating to communication activities. Also of note, is that the survey respondents reported that they spent 32% of their time working in teams. Their survey results also showed a strong correlation between communication skills and career performance (promotions, salary, etc.). Sageev and Romanowski2 summarize their investigation with the following statement: “Students need to learn basic people skills combined with technical communication skills or they will fail horribly when they enter the real world and have to compete with their peers.”

The message appears to be clear; engineering graduates lack the professional skills desired by industry and the skills necessary for career advancement. To address this, there are a variety of methods for integrating professional skills into a crowded engineering curriculum.

Barry, B., & Sharvelle, S., & Banks, M. K., & Brophy, S., & Oakes, W. (2007, June), Achieving Graduate Competencies Through An Authentic Design Experience In A Wastewater Treatment Course Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1813

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