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An Interactive Panel Session On Measuring The Impacts Of Project Based Service Learning On Engineering Education

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Measuring the Impacts of Project-based Service Learning on Engineering Education

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Page Numbers

14.202.1 - 14.202.8



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Paper Authors

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Kurt Paterson Michigan Technological University Orcid 16x16

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Angela Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

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Chris Swan Tufts University Orcid 16x16

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

Interactive Panel Session on Measuring the Impacts of Project-Based Service Learning on Engineering Education

ABSTRACT Through both planned and organic developments, project-based service learning (PBSL) has emerged as a powerful force in engineering education over the past decade. This paper highlights efforts to provide much needed clarity to the design, implementation, and assessment of PBSL. In February 2009, a national Summit was held in Washington, DC to begin a year-long synthesis of wisdom, experience, and evidence among PBSL implementers and assessment experts. Following recommendations from the Summit a series of national dialogues is to be held to engage a broader community of PBSL scholars; the 2009 ASEE annual conference is one of four such venues.

1. MOTIVATION American engineering capacity is in tumultuous waters. Enrollment trends are flat overall, and worse, declining when considering citizens only. Social dynamics may be further straining engineering education. Top concerns include the diminishing interest in engineering among American high school students, the continued lack of diversity within the field, and the retention of underrepresented groups within the engineering profession (NAE 2008). If engineering continues to poorly recruit diverse students (females and minorities) these trends will worsen in coming years (National Academies 2007). Added to these challenges, expectations of engineers are increasing, both academically and professionally (ABET 2007, NAE 2004). The response to date among institutions has often been along traditional academic lines of program development: need identification, program design, marketing, and implementation. One problem, of many, with this traditional approach to program design is its unresponsiveness to micro- and mega- trends affecting engineering education. There is little or no opportunity for stimuli external to the minds of university faculty to influence the development process. For example a recent study by the Council on Competitiveness (2008) presents four facets needed in modern engineering and science training to rebuild the American competitive advantage: (1) more integrative thinking, (2) more entrepreneurship, (3) more business-savvy service orientation, and (4) more computational skills. Few traditional academic programs have been re-designed to meet these, or similar, challenges.

Amidst these struggles, there is hope. National programs like Engineers Without Borders (EWB) and Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW), and service programs created at the university level (e.g. international senior design programs, EPICS, etc.) seem to be delivering a new breed of engineers: culturally-aware, community-minded, entrepreneurial, service-oriented. While these programs cover a spectrum of features, the most popular share two in common: projects and service to a society, usually in a culture very different than the student’s. Project-based service learning (PBSL) programs are defying most engineering education trends by exhibiting explosive involvement, diversity, and excitement for the profession.

Yet, these project-based service learning opportunities are complicated by their rapid grassroots development; much of the findings today on their impacts are anecdotal and qualitative. A few faculty have begun to assess their programs, but comprehensive and rigorous outcomes assessment strategies have not yet emerged. In addition, the numbers of students participating in


Paterson, K., & Bielefeldt, A., & Swan, C. (2009, June), An Interactive Panel Session On Measuring The Impacts Of Project Based Service Learning On Engineering Education Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5666

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2009 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015