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Bringing a Cross-Disciplinary, Contextual Approach to International Service Engineering Learning

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Diversity in Community Engagement Implementation I

Tagged Division

Community Engagement Division

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Keilin Jahnke University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Keilin Jahnke is a graduate student in Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Illinois. She completed her Bachelor's and Master's degrees in the Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering department at Illinois with concentrations in sustainable international development and creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation.

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Ann-Perry Witmer P.E. University of Illinois Orcid 16x16

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A teaching associate and professional civil engineer, Ann-Perry Witmer has brought to the classroom her experience working on drinking water projects with communities in the developing world. Ms. Witmer holds degrees in engineering, journalism and art history, and values the importance of developing a well-rounded understanding of the communities she serves. She has taught courses in international service design, as well as introductory engineering courses for freshmen, at the University of Illinois since 2013.

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Matthew Tan University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Matthew Tan is an undergraduate student in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has a passion for working on international service projects which led him to the Honduras Water Project. He has been involved since its inception in 2013 and has traveled as a mentor in 2014 and 2015.

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Grace Frances Witmer University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Grace Witmer, a graduate student in Translation and Interpreting at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, has ten years of experience in participating in international service projects, and served as a travelling Alumni-Mentor for the 2016 Honduras Water Project

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Courses in international engineering design for communities-in-need typically focus on creating, implementing, and optimizing innovative technologies that can be universally applied to the developing world. Many of the technological design assumptions are based upon the provider’s values and cultural experience, and often disregard the conditions and context of the recipient community. This mindset is exacerbated by the characteristic isolation that engineering education maintains with regard to non-technical disciplines such as anthropology, community health, and social development. A year-long course at [university], currently in is third year and working with its third community, breaks the isolationism of engineering thinking by combining undergraduate and graduate students in an interdisciplinary course with students in various departments to design and consult with a rural Honduran community in need of a safe drinking water supply. During the course students work closely with the community, a Honduran non-government organization, and professional advisors from various disciplines including civil engineering, water system operations, technical communications, and political governance. The course focuses on wrestling with the challenges of defining a need, evaluating alternative solutions, and devising a plan for system construction, operation, and financing. Results of the first two efforts are discussed from the perspectives of the student participants, the community recipient, the NGO, and professional partners. Feedback from course participants indicates that engineering students gain insights into the benefits of holistic engineering for domestic and international clients. Alumni of the course who continue participating as mentors report that they feel better qualified to undertake their professional responsibilities because of their course experience in defining a problem, working with a multi-disciplinary team to seek an appropriate and sustainable solution, and developing the cultural awareness to view the challenge from the perspective of the target user rather than from their own viewpoint.

Jahnke, K., & Witmer, A., & Tan, M., & Witmer, G. F. (2016, June), Bringing a Cross-Disciplinary, Contextual Approach to International Service Engineering Learning Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26395

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