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Forming A Culture Of Engineering: Undergraduate Research Projects In A Developing Country

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Project-Based Service Learning

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.636.1 - 14.636.10



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Paper Authors


Jim Chamberlain Clemson University

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Jim is a PhD candidate in Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences. His dissertation research is quantifying the climate change effects of growing switchgrass as a monoculture for biofuels production. Jim received a B.S. in Agricultural Engineering from Texas A&M and an M.S. in Environmental Systems Engineering from Clemson University. After completing his degree, he worked for 12 years as a consulting engineer in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for a variety of government and commercial clients. In 2006, Jim taught environmental chemistry at Spring Hill College in Mobile, AL, and decided to pursue his love of teaching by going back to school and acquiring his PhD.

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Lisa Benson Clemson University

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Lisa Benson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering and Science Education at Clemson University, with a joint appointment in
the Department of Bioengineering. Dr. Benson teaches first year engineering, research methods, and graduate engineering education courses. Her research interests include student-centered active
learning in undergraduate engineering, assessment of motivation, and how motivation affects student learning. She is also involved in projects that utilize Tablet PCs to enhance student learning. Her education includes a B.S. in Bioengineering from the University of Vermont, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Bioengineering from Clemson University.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract


A one-hour class in an undergraduate research program called Creative Inquiry (CI) at a public university was designed to introduce engineering students to design work for projects in a developing country. The projects are under the aegis of Engineers Without Borders, a non- profit humanitarian group that is focused on water, sanitation, energy, and environmental issues. The purpose of this concurrent mixed methods pilot study was to better understand the efficacy of the course by comparing responses of active students to those of a control group. In this study, a five-choice, closed-ended survey using a Likert scale was used to quantitatively measure the relationship between student participation in the class and their understanding of engineering as being part of a community of practice. At the same time, two additional open-ended questions allowed students to give their primary and secondary reasons for becoming an engineer.

The value of this research was two-fold. First, we wished to gather knowledge with which to make systematic improvements to the CI class’s structure and setting. Often called action research, this kind of research is quickly assimilated and implementable, and has the potential for bearing much immediate fruit[1]. The goal of the class is in creating an atmosphere of professionalism that is characteristic of a consulting engineer’s office and work structure. Secondly, the findings may point to the need for a more in-depth study that will utilize student profiles and perceptions generated here.

Two educational theories are used to form the initial theoretical constructs or bases for the survey questionnaire. These are motivation theory and situated cognition, and both are described below.

No less than with elementary and middle-school students, educational success with college-age engineering students is hampered or enhanced by the motivations of immediate or future goals, and the usefulness of required behavior towards attaining those goals. Exit surveys reveal a variety of initial motivations for students to choose engineering as a major field of study, from the strong influence of parents or a teacher to the desire for a financially-rewarding career[2]. For understanding continued motivation within the program, the VIE (Valence- Instrumentality-Expectancy) theory is a useful tool. Put simply, the motivation to perform is based on the value of a behavior and its related goals (valence), the perceived probability that the behavior will lead to the goals (instrumentality), and the perceived likelihood of successfully performing the task or behavior (expectancy) [3]. Within a one-hour undergraduate research course, the goals tend to reach beyond intermediate goals, such as a good grade, and are focused on larger goals such as learning how to become an engineer and the desire to participate in a humanitarian endeavor.

Situated cognition is a theory of education which asserts that learning and cognition are fundamentally situated in a community of practice. In this community, learning is embedded in activity, and a kind of cognitive apprenticeship develops between a student(s) and a mentor.

Chamberlain, J., & Benson, L. (2009, June), Forming A Culture Of Engineering: Undergraduate Research Projects In A Developing Country Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4998

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