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Altruistic Engineering Projects: Do Project-Based Service-Learning Designs Impact Attitudes in First-Year Engineering Students?

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

FPD 3: Research on First-year Programs and Students, Part I

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.158.1 - 22.158.9



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Paper Authors


Malinda S. Zarske University of Colorado, Boulder

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Malinda Schaeffer Zarske is a doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado, Boulder in engineering education. Her research interests include engineering student learning, diversity and recruitment. Her current research is centered on the impacts of project-based service-learning on student identity, recruitment, and retention in engineering. She is a Co-Director of the Engineering for American Communities student organization, on the development team as well as a content editor for the digital library, and has co-created and co-taught engineering elective courses for both high school and undergraduate students through CU, Boulder’s Integrated Teaching and Learning Program. A former middle and high school math and science teacher, she received her M.A.T. in secondary science from the Johns Hopkins University and her M.S. in civil engineering from CU, Boulder.

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Derek T. Reamon University of Colorado, Boulder

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Derek Reamon is Co-Director of the Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, and a Senior Instructor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. He received his Ph.D. in Educational Interface Design from Stanford University and has won numerous outstanding teaching awards. Dr. Reamon’s research interests encompass the foundations of educational theory, the practical issues involved in curricular improvement, and the assessment techniques required to measure the effectiveness of new methods.

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Daniel Knight University of Colorado, Boulder

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Daniel W. Knight is the engineering assessment specialist at the Integrated Teaching and Learning Program (ITLL) and the Broadening Opportunity through Leadership and Diversity (BOLD) Center in CU’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. He holds a B.A. in psychology from the Louisiana State University, and an M.S. degree in industrial/organizational psychology and a Ph.D. degree in counseling psychology, both from the University of Tennessee. Dr. Knight’s research interests are in the areas of retention, program evaluation and teamwork practices in engineering education. His current duties include assessment, evaluation and research for the ITL Program’s and BOLD Center's hands-on initiatives.

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Altruistic Engineering Projects: Do project-based service-learning designs impact attitudes in first-year engineering students?Research on knowledge acquisition indicates that engaging students in active learningexperiences, such as project-based (PB) and service-learning (SL) instruction, helps themtransfer information from the classroom to real-world settings. Combining project-based learningand service-learning (PBSL) has the potential to foster skills needed for a more global engineer,including cultural awareness, community mindedness, and greater flexibility in defining andsolving engineering problems. Practicing engineering in a community context, partnered with astrong emphasis on teamwork and reflection, PBSL programs may be effective approaches torecruit and retain more students, including women and minority students, into the pipeline ofengineering education and the engineering workforce.The research is clear: hands-on design project courses are beneficial to engineering students. TheUniversity’s First Year Engineering Projects (FYEP) course has been evolving over the lastdecade into a successful avenue for increasing the retention of its students in engineering. Ourlongitudinal studies demonstrate a higher retention through the seventh academic semester inengineering studies for those who complete FYEP. Multiple sections of the course are offeredeach semester and projects range from assistive technology innovations, interactive learningexhibits for youngsters, Lego bots, and Rube Goldberg devices. Several departments alreadyrequire completion of the team-based, multidisciplinary, three-credit projects course forgraduation.One goal of this project is to incorporate PBSL curricula into existing high school throughundergraduate engineering design courses. This paper examines student attitudes towardsaltruistic engineering design experiences versus conventional engineering design experienceswhen PBSL is incorporated into the first-year undergraduate engineering experience. Usingmultiple methods informed by current education research, we implemented an experiential, localcommunity client-based PBSL section of FYEP and compared it to a conventional (non-PSBL)section taught by the same instructor. We analyze how the context of altruistic engineeringimpacts first-year student awareness, attitudes, and identity with regard to engineering andcommunity service. Specifically this paper addresses, “When compared to conventional designexperiences, do PBSL design opportunities significantly increase first-year engineeringundergraduate student identity and interest in engineering futures?”

Zarske, M. S., & Reamon, D. T., & Knight, D. (2011, June), Altruistic Engineering Projects: Do Project-Based Service-Learning Designs Impact Attitudes in First-Year Engineering Students? Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17439

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