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Assessing And Improving A Multidisciplinary Environmental Life Cycle Analysis 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

Sustainability & Environmental Issues

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.263.1 - 12.263.22



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Paper Authors


David Richter Virginia Tech

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DAVID RICHTER is a graduate student currently pursuing a M.S. in Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech. He is researching interdisciplinary collaboration in engineering and education. He also has interests in engineering design, outreach programs for youth, and communication in the engineering curriculum.

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Sean McGinnis Virginia Tech

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SEAN McGINNIS is the Director of the Virginia Tech Green Engineering Program and a research faculty jointly appointed in Materials Science and Engineering and Biological Systems Engineering. Dr. McGinnis holds bachelor's degrees in Chemical Engineering and in Materials Science from the University of Minnesota and a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from Stanford University. Prior to joining Virginia Tech in 2005, Dr. McGinnis held a post-doctoral position in the Department of Inorganic Chemistry at Uppsala University, Sweden, and then worked in corporate research and development for 8 years. His current research interests focus generally on sustainable engineering, including the specific topics of life cycle analysis, green manufacturing, sustainable materials selection, and design for the environment.

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Maura Borrego Virginia Tech

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MAURA BORREGO is an assistant professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech and 2005 Rigorous Research in Engineering Education evaluator. Dr. Borrego holds an M.S. and Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from Stanford University. Her current research interests center around interdisciplinary collaboration in engineering and engineering education, including studies of the collaborative relationships between engineers and education researchers. She was recently awarded a CAREER grant from NSF to study interdisciplinarity in engineering graduate programs nationwide.

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

Assessing and Improving a Multidisciplinary Environmental Life Cycle Analysis Course


We describe learning and assessment from the spring 2006 Environmental Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) course, an upper-level undergraduate multidisciplinary course taught to students from a variety of engineering disciplines at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). The interdisciplinary background of the students and their general lack of exposure to the systems-based concepts of the Life Cycle Assessment method pose challenges for effective teaching and learning of the course objectives. We assessed the overall effectiveness of the current teaching materials and methods with respect to students achieving the learning objectives in this class. The data and conclusions are primarily based on a pre- and post-course survey – one provided to the students on the first day of class and a second with identical questions given at the end of the class. The survey responses and data analysis provide objective data demonstrating that the class objectives were met as well as support for course changes considered by the instructor. While the surveys provided useful assessment information, we found that a lack of clarity in the specific survey questions was a limitation. Moreover, the surveys were not designed to provide information to assess multidisciplinary learning and team skills. These skills need be explicitly stated as learning objectives and also assessed specifically to be more effectively learned.


The ability of students to work effectively in interdisciplinary teams is recognized as a key skill in corporate and governmental settings. Multidisciplinary teams are critical in industry to bring together the diverse skills sets required to design, manufacture, test, market, and sell products. Multidisciplinary teams have been used effectively at national labs for decades and are essential for approaching problems that require a wide array of skills and that are too complex for research teams based in any single discipline.1 In an increasingly global and competitive world, these skills are anticipated to be even more crucial for success. The National Academy of Engineering’s report, Educating the Engineer of 2020, identifies collaboration by a multidisciplinary team of experts as a growing need due to the increasing complexity and scale of systems-based engineering problems.2 Finally, this skill is explicitly required by the ABET Engineering Accreditation Commission Criterion 3 (d) which states that engineering programs must demonstrate that their students attain “an ability to function on multidisciplinary teams.”3

While multidisciplinary teamwork is understood to be an important skill set for students, universities have difficulties implementing such interdisciplinarity into curricular and degree programs which are generally discipline-focused. However, emerging issues in the areas of the environment and global sustainability now provide a compelling framework for both teachers and students to view engineering from a broader perspective. The next generation of engineers is likely to face a number of serious challenges in their careers with respect to the environment, from local to global scales. Energy demand is growing due to population growth and affluence at the same time that non-renewable fossil fuels, the world’s primary source of energy, are being

Richter, D., & McGinnis, S., & Borrego, M. (2007, June), Assessing And Improving A Multidisciplinary Environmental Life Cycle Analysis Course Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2490

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