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Attracting Underrepresented Groups To Engineering With Service Learning

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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

Marketing Engineering to Minority Students

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.298.1 - 12.298.41



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Paper Authors


Linda Barrington University of Massachusetts-Lowell

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Linda Barrington is the Service-Learning Coordinator for the Francis College of Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. She is a second career Mechanical Engineer, who also brings over twenty years of human services management to this position. She assists faculty in all five engineering departments to develop course-based service-learning projects by linking them with appropriate non-profit organizations to meet real community needs.

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John Duffy University of Massachusetts-Lowell

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Professor of Mechanical and Solar Engineering, faculty coordinator of the SLICE project (Service-Learning Integrated throughout a College of Engineering), coordinator of the graduate program in solar engineering, and coordinator of the Village Empowerment Project.

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

Attracting Underrepresented Groups to Engineering with Service-Learning Abstract

The University of Massachusetts Lowell College of Engineering has an objective to integrate service-learning into core required courses in every department so every student every semester has at least one course with S-L (SLICE: Service-Learning Integrated throughout a College of Engineering). Why? Because past research has shown service-learning (S-L) to be effective meeting course learning objectives while addressing real community needs and to be successful for students on a number of cognitive and affective measures. In addition, the college wishes to attract and retain underrepresented groups in engineering. For example, the college in 2004-05 had only 12% females in its undergraduate engineering population of 914 full-time students compared to 17.5% national average. Since past research has shown that women students respond to applied knowledge and helping people, and underrepresented minorities to community connections, there are many ways in which service-learning is a good fit.

Responding to the SLICE initiative, 25 engineering faculty members actually implemented S-L into at least one of their courses during the 04-05 academic year and 34 faculty in 05-06. In 2005-06 over the two semesters an average of 700 undergraduate students participated in S-L projects in 52 courses, some with required S-L projects and others elective. This wide variety of courses included, for example, a first year introduction to engineering with 300 students, kinematics, soil mechanics, heat transfer, engineering ethics, electronics, plastics design, strength of materials, and a senior EE capstone course on assistive technology with 70 students. Community partners included the Lowell National Historical Park, many local rehabilitation clinics, a local food bank, the City Transportation Office, as well as remote villages in a developing country. There is evidence that females are attracted to service-learning projects in 16 universities that have adopted the EPICS program in which elective courses are chosen that are entirely focused on S-L projects by women at a rate more than double that of the underlying population. There is emerging evidence from the SLICE project that S-L may attract more females and minorities also. In the “pre” surveys, in a ranking of 12 possible reasons for wanting to go into engineering, “helping others” ranked second to “challenge, self-development” among females and non- Caucasians, but did not rank in the top four for Caucasians, losing out to challenge, income, creativity, and security. The trend of difference continued in the pre-survey in the fall of 2005, with over 500 responses: females and males showed significant differences in the “helping others” category ranking with a Chi-Square test at the 5% significance level. In a long-standing voluntary S-L program involving design and installation of systems in a remote region of a developing country, thirty-five percent of the engineering students have been female, three times the underlying population. In a faculty survey (with 70% of the 75 faculty responding), females were significantly more confident that S-L can be academic rigorous and take no more course time than males (t-test at the 5% level). In a post survey in the spring of 2006 fourteen percent of the 433 students said they came to U Mass Lowell because of S-L. Thus, there is growing evidence in this study and elsewhere that S-L may be able to attract and keep students, particularly females and other underrepresented groups, in engineering.

Barrington, L., & Duffy, J. (2007, June), Attracting Underrepresented Groups To Engineering With Service Learning Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2993

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