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Benefits of a Project-Based Curriculum: Engineering Employers’ Perspectives

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Cooperative & Experiential Education Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Cooperative & Experiential Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.278.1 - 26.278.13



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Paper Authors


Richard F. Vaz Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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Richard F. Vaz is Dean of Interdisciplinary and Global Studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), with oversight of WPI’s interdisciplinary research requirement, the Interactive Qualifying Project, as well as the WPI Global Projects Program, a worldwide network of 40 Project Centers where more than 800 students and faculty per year address problems for local agencies and organizations. Rick’s teaching and research interests include service and experiential learning, sustainability and appropriate technology, and engineering education reform. From 2004 to 2010 he served as a Senior Science Fellow of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

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Paula Quinn Quinn Evaluation Consulting

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Paula Quinn is an independent evaluation consultant with Quinn Evaluation Consulting. She specializes in the field of education and has worked on projects funded by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Education, state departments of education, and private colleges and universities. She holds an M.A. in Developmental Psychology from Clark University and a B.A. in Psychology from Case Western Reserve University.

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How Project-Based Learning Benefits Engineering Students: Employers’ PerspectivesAs the final phase of a mixed-methods study that explored the impact of project-based learning(PBL) on alumni of a technology-focused university featuring a project-based curriculum, anexternal party conducted in-depth interviews with ten engineering employers of alumni todetermine how PBL prepares students for the engineering workplace. The employers interviewedranged from a Fortune 500 multinational conglomerate to a not-for-profit organization and abranch of the U.S. military. This paper discusses qualitative findings from these interviews,contextualized by findings from a recent alumni survey. All employers interviewed indicatedthat they regularly and actively seek out graduates from this university to hire as employees.While employers noted that graduates from this university possessed especially strong skills inthe areas of communication and collaboration—qualities that earlier phases of the study showedwere strengthened through participation in PBL—not all of the employers were aware that thegraduates had participated in PBL. Employers who were aware that PBL featured prominently atthe university perceived the graduates as particularly mature job candidates. They furtherindicated that it was an asset to hire graduates who already had significant project experiencebecause those graduates brought skills and approaches to their work that enabled them to operateautonomously faster than they would otherwise. While none of the individuals interviewed forthis study were alumni of the university, some noted that alumni desire for recruits from theiralma mater had significantly and positively impacted hiring practices at their organizations.Findings of the study overall indicate that PBL is beneficial not only to the students whoparticipate in it but to the engineering employers who hire them, as well.

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: © 2015 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