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Engineering Service Learning at Children’s Museum: A Decade of Empowering the STEM Education Pipeline

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

2-Year College Division: Transferring and Smoothing Transitions

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Two-Year College

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Paper Authors


Dan G. Dimitriu San Antonio College

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Dan G. Dimitriu has been practicing engineering since 1970 and taught engineering courses concurrently for more than 20 years at various institutions. In 2001, he joined San Antonio College full-time as the Coordinator of its Engineering program. He has been involved with several engineering societies and became a member of the Two-year College Division of ASEE in 2002. His research interests are in engineering graphics, 3-D Visualization, fuel cells, plastics, and engineering education. He received the 2015 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring.

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Klaus B. Bartels San Antonio College

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Klaus Bartels is an Adjunct Faculty member at San Antonio College (SAC) in the Mathematics, Architecture, Physics and Engineering Dept. He was born near Buenos Aires, Argentina and immigrated to the U.S. in 1956. He grew up and went to college in the Boston, MA area. He has a B.S.E.E. from Tufts University (1972) and an M.S.E.E. from M.I.T. (1975). He served as a Communications-Electronics Engineer/Officer in the USAF from 1975 to 1999, retiring as a colonel. He worked part time as a Flight Director at the Challenger Learning Center of San Antonio from 2000 to 2009, and has been teaching math and engineering classes at SAC since 2000. He has also been involved in various engineering STEM programs at SAC, including instructor for Robotics Camps for 3rd to 5th graders (2012 - 2014), instructor and coordinator for the Early Development of General Engineering program for high school students (2007 - 2015), and faculty adviser for 18 undergraduate engineering research projects primarily involving alternative energy (2011 - present). In addition, he is currently the SAC Co-PI for the 3-year NSF-funded CIMA-LSAMP Alliance grant that is increasing the numbers of underrepresented minority students who successfully transfer
from community colleges into high-quality four-year STEM programs.

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Charles Chris Navarro The DoSeum

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Chris Navarro is a graduate of Texas State University with a Master of Arts in Theatre. He is a certified teacher, a Teacher Consultant for the National Writing Project, and the President of the local affiliate of the National Council of Teachers of English: the Yanaguana Council of Teachers. He is the Director of Partnerships and Community Programs at The DoSeum, San Antonio's museum for children. He has created and facilitated education programs for kids and teacher professional development in the areas of STEM, maker-centered learning, balanced literacy, digital literacy, and fine arts. He spends his time away from work traveling with his wife and two kids and playing music with friends.

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One of the most effective techniques to teach engineering in higher education is service learning, in which student learning objectives are combined with community service to provide a real-life, progressive learning experience. A significant part of the required work for engineering introductory courses is comprised of team projects, which are effectively facilitated through service learning. This paper describes a 10-year ongoing service-learning project at our college done in close collaboration with the local children’s museum, XXXXXXX. It presents the development, implementation, and results of this project, which is included as a component of a freshman-level Introduction to Engineering course. Initially, the museum’s Education Coordinator requested our help to develop thematic toys and games to teach visiting children various physics concepts and evolved to align with the re-development of XXXXXXX into a STEM Center during the past decade. The project starts with the museum Education Team, the “customer,” presenting to engineering students the physics concepts they need addressed as well as the aesthetic, technical, and safety requirements of the project. Each student engineering team chooses a particular physics concept to design and build a toy or game “exhibit” that meets all the requirements, using recycled and repurposed materials as much as possible. The teams are required to present their prototypes to the engineering course instructor and XXXXXXX Team for inspection, feedback, and approval. After final modifications, a formal product test with the “real customers” (children and their families) is conducted at the XXXXXXX. On a busy Saturday afternoon, hundreds of children and their families play with the exhibited toys and games and indicate their preferences on a ballot to decide the “Top-3.” exhibits. At the same time, the XXXXXXX Education Team evaluates each exhibit to select up to three projects that would be donated and become exhibits in the museum. The project concludes with detailed team written and oral reports that describe how the multi-step engineering design process was used to design, build, and test a new product. The final activity of the project are class discussions where students exchange observations and lessons learned. Feedback on this project has been almost universally positive since its inception. This paper also provides conclusions and suggestions to help other schools start a service-learning component in their Introduction to Engineering course that will not only benefit students, but also help their communities learn more about engineering.

Dimitriu, D. G., & Bartels, K. B., & Navarro, C. C. (2020, June), Engineering Service Learning at Children’s Museum: A Decade of Empowering the STEM Education Pipeline Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34559

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