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Applying Resilience Theory to ‘Bounce Forward’ from COVID-19 for Environmental Engineering Programs

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Environmental Engineering Division Technical Session 3: Teaching Environmental Engineering in the COVID-19 Era

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

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Paper Authors


Andrew Ross Pfluger United States Military Academy Orcid 16x16

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Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Pfluger, U.S. Army, is an Associate Professor and Academy Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at the United States Military Academy. He earned a B.S. in Civil Engineering from USMA, a M.S. and Engineer Degree in Environmental Engineering and Science from Stanford University, and a Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines. He is a licensed PE in the state of Delaware.

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Michael A. Butkus United States Military Academy

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Michael A. Butkus is a professor of environmental engineering at the U.S. Military Academy. His work has been focused on engineering education and advancements in the field of environmental engineering. His current research interests are in physicochemical treatment processes with recent applications in drinking water disinfection, lead remediation, sustainable environmental engineering systems, and contaminant transport. Butkus is a Board Certified Environmental Engineer and he is a registered Professional Engineer in the state of Connecticut.

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Benjamin Michael Wallen P.E. United States Military Academy

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Benjamin Wallen is a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army and an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at the United States Military Academy. He is also the Dean's Fellow for Remote Teaching and Distance Learning - Best Practices. He is a 1996 graduate of the United States Military Academy with a B.S. in Environmental Engineering and obtained an M.S. from both the University of Missouri at Rolla in Geological Engineering and the University of Texas at Austin in Environmental Engineering. Most recently, he graduated with his Ph.D. from the Colorado School of Mines in Civil and Environmental Engineering. He teaches Environmental Science and Environmental Engineering Technologies. He also serves as a faculty advisor for the senior capstone design course and several independent research projects.

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Mark Robert Read United States Military Academy

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The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted higher education in numerous ways. As COVID-19 spread worldwide in the spring of 2020, most colleges and universities closed their campuses and transitioned to remote learning platforms. As uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 persisted into 2021, many colleges and universities continued to employ remote learning or transitioned to hybrid in-person / remote learning approaches to prevent further outbreaks on campuses. While COVID-19 has been devastating, we propose that the pandemic also presents an unprecedented opportunity to reflect, reassess, and ‘bounce forward’ to become more efficient, effective, and resilient. The National Academy of Sciences’ definition of resilience has spurred a theory of resilience that centers on four successive stages surrounding a disruptive event, such as COVID-19: (1) plan and prepare, (2) absorb, (3) recover, and (4) adapt. In this paper we propose a framework that environmental programs can employ to ‘adapt’ (stage 4) and ‘bounce forward’ to a more resilient modus operandi long-term. The framework first identifies each activity a program executes, and then bins them into one of four categories based on importance relative to the program’s outcomes: critical, essential, enhancing, or ancillary. Critical and essential activities are those that are necessary to achieve the program’s educational outcomes and remain ABET compliant, or those that directly underpin and enable achievement of outcomes and accreditation, respectively. Enhancing and ancillary activities are those that substantially elevate or noticeably enhance, respectively, a program’s educational experience; however, if they are not executed, do not result in a failure to achieve a program’s educational objectives. Once activities are identified and binned, opportunities for ‘bouncing forward’ are identified and explored. While the results of this assessment will inevitably look different for each environmental engineering program, our program found opportunities to immediately ‘bounce forward’ in several areas, to include integrating remote teaching and distance learning best practices and streamlining administrative practices. We also identified opportunities to ‘bounce forward’ over the next three to five years, to include eliminating low payoff activities and reassessing the way we do laboratory work. However, continual clear-eyed self-assessment is required to fully realize the ‘bounce forward’ opportunities available post-pandemic.

Pfluger, A. R., & Butkus, M. A., & Wallen, B. M., & Read, M. R. (2021, July), Applying Resilience Theory to ‘Bounce Forward’ from COVID-19 for Environmental Engineering Programs Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36694

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