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Competitions for Environmental Engineering Capstone Design Projects: Student Preferences and Learning Outcomes

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Interdisciplinary Experiences and Assessment in Environmental Engineering

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.336.1 - 25.336.18



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Paper Authors


Angela R. Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

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Angela Bielefeldt, Ph.D., P.E., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU). She was attracted into environmental engineering as a high school student participating in a summer research program at Iowa State University. While at CU, she has mentored more than 30 undergraduate student research projects.

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Competitions for Environmental Engineering Capstone Design Projects: Student Preferences and Learning OutcomesIn recent years, teams of students in the Environmental Engineering capstone senior designcourse at __ University (_U) have participated in two different design competitions or a varietyof other projects. For three years, teams have participated in the regional competition organizedby the local Water Environment Federation (WEF) chapter; in one year, the _U students won thenational competition. For two years, teams have participated in the AECOM design competition,and one _U team won the competition. This paper will compare and contrast the studentpreferences for different project types and the learning outcomes from the different projects.At the beginning each semester, students rated their project preferences and were placed ontoteams of 3 to 6 students. The design competitions were less popular than service learningprojects. In fall 2004 and 2006, student interest was insufficient to participate in the Metcalf &Eddy design competition. In spring 2009, student interest was equal in the regional WEF designcompetition to upgrade a local municipal wastewater treatment plant and a ___ University designcompetition for Haliburton with large cash prizes for the winners; no students preferred a realproject on end-of-life vehicle salvage for a client. In spring 2010, two international serviceprojects for developing communities were the most popular, followed by a _U service project,the AECOM drinking water project, the regional WEF competition drinking water project, andthe AECOM wastewater project; a single student team worked on each of the five most popularprojects. In spring 2011, the most popular projects were the service project for _U, the threeservice projects for local businesses/ communities, followed by the regional WEF designcompetition, the AECOM drinking water project, and the AECOM wastewater project.The learning outcomes evident from the graded course deliverables were similar in meeting thestated course objectives. Word content analyses on the final design reports revealed somedifferences between the competition projects and service learning projects, particularly withrespect to sustainability concepts. The social pillar was typically represented to a greater degreein the service learning projects as compared to the design competitions. Content analyses of theindividual student reflection essays will be presented in the conference paper.The design competition projects can provide strong learning outcomes. However, the AECOMproblems lack of a specific location and data. By comparison, the regional WEF designcompetition is based on a real project submitted by a local municipal utility. The ability to tourthe facility, receive detailed monitoring data from the plant, and interact with utility personnel isa strength of the WEF project. In both competition projects, the students practiced for the oralpresentations more than the non-competition teams, in particular extra time before the nationallevel competition. To date, multiple teams at our university have not competed on the sameproject, although this is possible and appears common at other universities for both designcompetitions. It was initially difficult to get students interested in participating in the designcompetitions, but now both competitions appear to have gained momentum and interest amongour students. In particular, alumni who participated on the winning teams have returned tomentor later student teams. These competition projects are recommended as good learningexperiences in capstone design courses.

Bielefeldt, A. R. (2012, June), Competitions for Environmental Engineering Capstone Design Projects: Student Preferences and Learning Outcomes Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21094

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