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Building Career-Ready Students through Multidisciplinary Project-Based Learning Opportunities - A Case Study

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Project-Based Learning

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Gareth W. Figgess California State University, Sacramento

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Gareth Figgess is a professor of Construction Management at California State University, Sacramento. He teaches a range of courses including construction surveying and layout, soils and foundations, and construction graphics and visualization. Professor Figgess’ professional background is predominantly infrastructure and heavy-civil related, but since joining the faculty at CSU Sacramento in 2013, he has pursued several research opportunities in sustainability and net-zero energy building design. Professor Figgess was the lead faculty advisor for the CSU Sacramento entry into the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 and played a supporting role in the 2016 SMUD Tiny House Competition. Figgess holds a BS in Construction Management and an MBA. His research interests include sustainability, water conservation, and renewable energy, as well as methods of teaching and learning.

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Rustin G. Vogt California State University, Sacramento

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One of the primary purposes of an engineering or construction management curriculum is to prepare students to enter the workforce upon graduation, ready to perform a variety of responsibilities as a part of a multidisciplinary team. The transition from student to professional must occur quickly – often in as little as four-to-five years. Central to this transformation is the student’s ability to translate the theories and principles introduced in the classroom into tangible skills appropriate to their particular discipline and work effectively with a variety of people from multiple disciplines. While there are many pedagogical approaches that seek to accomplish this goal, project-based learning explicitly presents students with the opportunity to put theory and principle into immediate use. Such project-based learning opportunities are commonly employed in senior design courses as a culminating experience but are typically held independently within each discrete discipline or department. This paper describes a method for integrating project-learning opportunities across multiple disciplines. As a basis for comparison, two multidisciplinary engineering and construction projects are evaluated: The US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, and the SMUD Tiny House Competition.

The Solar Decathlon is a two-year program in which university students from around the world compete to design and build a 600-1000sf home that generates as much energy as it consumes through solar energy. The SMUD Tiny House Competition is a two-year program that challenges university students within California to design and build an energy-self-contained tiny-house. The specific projects evaluated in this paper were comprised of students from multiple engineering disciplines, construction management, and interior design. Both projects included a full project life-cycle. In both cases, students took the projects from conceptual design through construction and, ultimately, building startup and commissioning. Both projects also incorporated select components that had been engineered and developed in some of the students’ respective capstone courses. However, for most students and faculty, the projects were accomplished in addition to their regular workload strictly as a volunteer effort. This paper will highlight some of the most influential learning opportunities unique to such projects and propose a method for bringing similar learning opportunities to the engineering, construction management, and design curricula through the development of multidisciplinary capstone course. If successful, such a program would capture the learning opportunities presented by projects such as the US Solar Decathlon or the SMUD Tiny House and package them in a manner compatible with the traditional curricular structure of engineering, construction management, and design disciplines.

Figgess, G. W., & Vogt, R. G. (2017, June), Building Career-Ready Students through Multidisciplinary Project-Based Learning Opportunities - A Case Study Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27988

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