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Challenges of a Professional Issues Course in Civil Engineering: Comparison Across Two Years

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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

Balancing Act: Ideas in Pre- & Post- Surveys and Assessment of Professional Skills

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Angela R. Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

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Angela Bielefeldt is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering (CEAE). She has served as the ABET assessment coordinator for the department since 2008. Professor Bielefeldt is the faculty director of the Sustainable By Design Residential Academic Program, a living-learning community where interdisciplinary students learn about and practice sustainability. Bielefeldt is also a licensed P.E. Professor Bielefeldt's research interests in engineering education include service-learning, sustainable engineering, social responsibility, ethics, and diversity.

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There are a number of professional skills that civil engineering students should possess when they graduate with a Bachelor’s degree, as articulated in the ASCE Body of Knowledge Second Edition (BOK2) and the civil engineering program specific criteria under ABET EAC-accreditation. An analysis of the curriculum at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) determined that there were gaps in meeting these professional skill outcomes, and as such a professional issues course was added as a requirement in the senior year. Many other universities offer similar courses, and the content of these courses has been reviewed. At CU, the professional issues course has learning objectives that map to six different BOK2 outcomes: professional and ethical issues, sustainability, contemporary issues, leadership, public policy, and business & public administration. The majority of the topics in the course are often perceived by students to be “soft skills”, which they believe are less important than technical outcomes. This and other issues presented obstacles to creating a course that would be well received by students while also meeting the needs of the curriculum and documenting fulfillment of the learning objectives for ABET. A pilot version of the course was first offered in the fall 2015 semester to nineteen students who transferred into the curriculum; a revised version of the course was offered in fall 2016 to 56 students. Although the course provided necessary direct evidence that the learning outcomes were met, it was unpopular with the majority of the students. It is hoped that the paper might stimulate a broader discourse on the role of professional issues courses, versus an infusion model for teaching these topics which is likely to be more successful. Best practices for implementation may emerge if individuals share both successes and failures with regards to these courses.

Bielefeldt, A. R. (2017, June), Challenges of a Professional Issues Course in Civil Engineering: Comparison Across Two Years Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28024

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