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Environmental Considerations in Engineering: Students’ Goals and Journeys

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Environmental Engineering Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


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 is a licensed PE and has served as the ABET assessment coordinator in her department since 2008. Professor Bielefeldt's research interests in engineering education include service-learning, sustainable engineering, social responsibility, ethics, and diversity.

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Greg Rulifson P.E. Colorado School of Mines Orcid 16x16

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Greg currently teaches in Humanitarian Engineering at CSM. Greg earned his bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering with a minor in Global Poverty and Practice from UC Berkeley where he acquired a passion for using engineering to facilitate developing communities’ capacity for success. He earned his master's degree in Structural Engineering and Risk Analysis from Stanford University. His PhD work at CU Boulder focused on how student's connections of social responsibility and engineering change throughout college as well as how engineering service is valued in employment and supported in the workplace.

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This qualitative study explored the journeys of students with environmental goals who started college majoring in engineering. The research explored students’ motivations to enter college majoring in engineering, their journeys through college, and how they viewed environmental issues as part of their future engineering careers and among the social responsibilities of engineers. Among 34 engineering students who were interviewed at the end of their first year of college, nine students were initially majoring in environmental engineering (EnvE) and three additional students had strong environmental interests (2 civil, 1 mechanical). These students spanned three institutions and continued to participate in semi-structured interviews in subsequent years. In addition to interests in the environment, ten of the 12 students described family or friends as influential to choosing to major in engineering and seven discussed liking math/science in high school. Among the 12 students, one graduated with a degree in EnvE, five graduated from Civil Engineering, one graduated from Chemical Engineering, three transferred out of engineering to other majors, and two left college. Students who transferred out of EnvE to other engineering majors cited difficulty/disliking chemistry and broader career options among their reasons. Students who transferred out of engineering cited academic struggles, disliking the courses/curriculum in engineering, and disliking an internship experience. Another student was disappointed that engineering was not creative enough and lacked appropriate attention to broader issues. Among the students who left engineering, two transferred into environmental studies and one into environmental science, indicating their strong interest in environmental issues. The seven students who initially had environmental goals and persisted to earn engineering degrees discussed their career goals and responsibilities with respect to the environment in different ways. Five of the seven remained strong in their environmental convictions, and two seemed to lose their passion for helping the environment through engineering. The paper concludes with a discussion of how EnvE might better retain students with a broad range of interests and motivations.

Bielefeldt, A. R., & Rulifson, G. (2018, June), Environmental Considerations in Engineering: Students’ Goals and Journeys Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30434

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