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An Exploratory Study on the Contextual Challenges and Barriers of Introducing Sustainability to First-Year Engineering Students

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

FPD 7: Beyond Course Content

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.160.1 - 24.160.20



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Paper Authors

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Leonardo Bedoya-Valencia Colorado State University, Pueblo

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Katherine Sofía Palacio Fundacion Universidad del Norte


Sarah Spencer-Workman Colorado State University-Pueblo

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Sustainability Education Specialist

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Yaneth Correa-Martinez Colorado State University-Pueblo

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Engineer, M. Sc. and PhD candidate (Old Dominion University), with 9+ years of experience in business and government environments. Experience with STEM related initiatives both at the k-12 level and Higher Education; with main focus on strategies for improving student engagement and performance. Additional experience working with Faculty on the integration of Instructional Technologies in the classroom. Major strengths in innovative problem solving; modeling and simulation (mainly for business analysis and government consulting); operations research and decision sciences (risk analysis, investment valuation under uncertainty, financial engineering). Additional skills in optimization, statistical analysis and systems engineering.

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An Exploratory Study on the Contextual Challenges and Barriers of Introducing Sustainability to First Year Engineering StudentsSustainability has become an increasingly new and central topic for the engineering profession.The sustainability concept requires all of us, as engineers and citizens, to consider much morewidely than before the impact of our own lives and of the products and services engineersdesign. The success in integrating novel concepts in existing curricula relies upon three mainaspects of an individual’s context: perceptions, awareness and knowledge. To effectively conveythose concepts, Faculty needs to become aware of the current state and potential barriers andenablers present in the first year students’ context. Based on the baseline identified in an initialeffort of curricula redesign, Faculty needs to engage in a reinforcing process where one orseveral of these aspects are sequentially and/or concurrently impacted.Individuals in general and first year students in particular, function in very distinctive contexts.They achieve a level of awareness regarding a concept based on a continuous exchange ofinformation with their contexts. Moreover, they perceive a concept through the happening (ornot happening) of contextual events and they acquire knowledge either by choice or by need.The challenge of curricula redesign relies upon the infusion of knowledge that will need to bealigned with the individual’s context: perception and awareness. This alignment occurs throughseveral interactions between those three components.Through a Department of Education funded grant, our university has initiated a long term effortto incorporate the sustainability concept into the engineering courses. Initially, freshmanengineering students from our university and one large private university in South America wereintroduced to the sustainability concept through the completion of an additional module added totheir required Introduction to Engineering course. This traditional course includes study skills inengineering, the engineering profession, the engineering design process, and ethics inengineering among others. This additional module was offered via Skype with twitter as asupporting tool, in two languages, English and Spanish, at the university in South America.A 15-item survey was developed to measure students’ self rated perception, knowledge andawareness about sustainability. First year engineering students at both universities took thesurvey, which was available online, before and after the module was completed. Preliminaryresults have shown that first-year engineering students in both universities are receptive andresponsive to the addition of topics such as sustainability into their courses whenever Faculty issuccessful in showing them the importance and relevance in today’s engineering profession.Initial experiences with sustainability are important to increase students’ positive perceptiontoward sustainability and to increase their willingness to incorporate this concept into their futurecourses and when dealing with real design problems in their workplace. The additionalsustainability module helped first-year engineering students understand the concept ofsustainability and its relationship with the engineering design process as it is applied to solvereal-world problems. Additionally, by further analyzing the results of the survey, it is expectedto discover differences in the level of perception, knowledge, and awareness about the concept ofsustainability possibly explained by the context in which the first year engineering students areembedded.

Bedoya-Valencia, L., & Palacio, K. S., & Spencer-Workman, S., & Correa-Martinez, Y. (2014, June), An Exploratory Study on the Contextual Challenges and Barriers of Introducing Sustainability to First-Year Engineering Students Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20051

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