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Engagement in Practice: Engineering at a Monastery - Integrating Course Content with Community Engagement by Building a Better Maple Sap Evaporator

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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

Community Engagement Division Technical Session 5

Tagged Division

Community Engagement Division

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Paper Authors


Derek Breid Saint Vincent College Orcid 16x16

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Derek Breid is an assistant professor of Engineering Science at Saint Vincent College. His interests include integrating active learning techniques into classic engineering courses, and studying the mechanical behavior of soft materials.

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Lawrence Machia Saint Vincent College

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I am a monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Br. Lawrence, and in addition to seminary studies I work in our college as a lab assistant to the physics department. After finishing seminary I will go on to graduate studies in physics so as to teach in the college. Two years ago some monks and students came together to make maple syrup by tapping local maple trees. In the second year we constructed our own evaporator and this year we are working with an engineering course to design a sap preheater system to improve the evaporator's efficiency.

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Saint Vincent College shares its campus with a Catholic Benedictine monastery. In 2015, a Saint Vincent monk began a project to harvest maple sap from trees on campus and in the surrounding community to produce maple syrup. In its short lifetime, this project has brought together students, faculty, monks, and community members to share in the experience of syrup production and the joys of tasting the final result. In the fall of 2016, an effort was launched to involve Engineering Science students in this process, by revamping the structure of Heat and Mass Transfer to incorporate a project to design improvements to the sap evaporator used in the production of syrup as a course-long project. Students were given an overview of the evaporation process and performed tests to evaluate its performance. A particular aspect of the evaporator was chosen for further analysis, and students designed improvements based on the stated needs of the primary operator. The evaporator was also used as an in-class example throughout the term to illustrate the ways in which course concepts would apply to its operation. This work-in-progress paper describes the implementation of this course revision in its first year and evaluates its success based on feedback from the students and the maple-making monk, and the extent to which experiential learning reinforced course principles. Assessment of the project includes instructor evaluation of the students’ work in testing the evaporator and on the design quality of the proposed improvement, and lessons learned from the collaboration from the perspective of the students, professor, and monk. It also includes excerpts collected from student reflections on their experiences, including the growth of their technical abilities as well as soft skills such as communication skills and maintaining working relationships with the broader community. Finally, this paper will also examine possible directions this collaboration may take in the future.

Breid, D., & Machia, L. (2017, June), Engagement in Practice: Engineering at a Monastery - Integrating Course Content with Community Engagement by Building a Better Maple Sap Evaporator Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28232

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