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Engagement in Practice: Not Just Technical Education; An Anthropological Perspective on a Community-Based Engineering Internship Program

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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

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Kenzell Huggins University of Chicago


Asha Barnes

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Currently a student of the University of Notre Dame, my long term goals are to become a citizen of the world, a metropolitan learner. As Anthropology is my passion, I hope to continue to better my skills in ethnographic research.

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Susan D. Blum The University of Notre Dame


Jay B. Brockman University of Notre Dame

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Dr. Jay Brockman is the Associate Dean of Engineering for Experiential Learning and Community Engagement. He received his Ph.D. in Computer Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and previously worked for Intel Corporation. He is also a founder of Emu Solutions, Inc., a startup company that is commercializing research in the area of high-performance computing.

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Gary Allen Gilot P.E. University of Notre Dame

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Gary A. Gilot is the Director of Engineering Leadership and Community Engagement at the College of Engineering at the University of Notre Dame. Gary is a Fellow at the University Center for Social Concerns.

Gary earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Clarkson University in Upstate New York (1978), and Masters in Business Administration from Indiana University at South Bend (1985). He is a licensed Professional Engineer in Indiana (since 1982).

Gary continues to serve as President of Board of Public Works in South Bend which has management oversight for the municipality.

Gary previously served as Director of Public Works and President of Board of Public Works in South Bend and Elkhart, Indiana for a combined 30 years.

Gary remains actively engaged in the community. Locally, Gary was recognized for distinguished public service by the South Bend Alumni Association. On a statewide level of recognition, Gary is a recipient of the Ivan H. Brinegar municipal management award through the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns. Nationally in August, 2010, Gary was selected as the nation's 2010 “Public Works Leader of the Year” by American City & County magazine for technology innovation.

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Legitimacy and human interactions are not always considered in engineering education. In this research, we demonstrate that these are essential for the success of a community-based engineering project. A team of 20 student interns, highly diverse in age, background, field of study, and level of education, worked together with multiple city and community partners on a set of nine projects focused on a challenged neighborhood surrounding a degraded urban creek. This summer project revealed multiple sources of success, challenge, and engagement that could not have been predicted beforehand. In this paper we discuss 1) the emergent nature of legitimacy of leadership, 2) organization within the community, 3) responsiveness to unexpected events, such as a shooting in a park central to the project a week prior to its beginning, and 4) the outcome of authentic learning and completion of projects. We demonstrate that a certain degree of improvisation must be accepted as part of the nature of a community-based project. We show that interpersonal relations of the student interns are as essential as the technical, environmental, and scientific aspects of an engineering education. We assess the interpersonal dimensions as they were both formally and informally fostered, in part through analysis of the strength of social networks and proximity maps, as well as through qualitative analysis of student reflections and participant observation of interactions and their transformations during the 10 weeks of the internship. Finally, we define effectiveness not simply as technical accomplishment but as acceptability by the community expected to benefit from the proposed projects. Our findings should have implications for any community-based internships that aim to provide engineering students with outside-the-classroom opportunities.

Huggins, K., & Barnes, A., & Blum, S. D., & Brockman, J. B., & Gilot, G. A. (2017, June), Engagement in Practice: Not Just Technical Education; An Anthropological Perspective on a Community-Based Engineering Internship Program Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28234

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