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Fostering Critical Thinking Through A Service-Learning, Combined Sewer Analysis Project In An Undergraduate Course in Hydrologic Engineering

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Innovative Pedagogy in Civil Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.614.1 - 23.614.14



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Paper Authors


Isaac W Wait Marshall University

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Dr. Isaac Wait is an associate professor of Engineering in the Division of Engineering at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va. He conducts research and teaches courses in water resources and environmental engineering, and is a registered professional engineer in the states of Ohio and West Virginia.

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Jeffrey T. Huffman P.E. P.E. Marshall University

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Jeffrey T. Huffman is an assistant professor of Engineering in the Weisberg Division of Engineering at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. He has three years of teaching experience as well as 21 years of experience in engineering consulting and management. Huffman received his B.S.C.E. and M.S.C.E. degrees from Virginia Tech and is a registered professional engineer in five states. He conducts research and teaches courses in geotechnical engineering, civil engineering materials, and directs the senior capstone design course.

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Christopher T. Anderson Huntington (WV) Sanitary Board

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Anderson is executive director of the Huntington Sanitary Board and adjunct professor at Marshall University. He has degrees in both Mechanical Engineering and Law.

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Fostering Critical Thinking Through A Service-Learning, Combined Sewer Analysis Project In An Undergraduate Course in Hydrologic EngineeringThe ability to exercise engineering judgment and think critically when put into unfamiliarsituations are important to graduating engineering students as they begin their careers. However,many engineering courses focus on teaching students the background information andfundamental principles for a topic, without adequately engaging students in activities thatcultivate and reinforce critical thinking. The result is often that students may ‘know’ things abouta topic, but are far less able to ‘do’ engineering work in that topic. Assigning homeworkproblems from a textbook may be an adequate approach to reinforce student familiarity withcertain equations and relationships, but such assignments that are typical in many engineeringcourses do not give students realistic practice at what their work duties will actually be like oncethey graduate. Upon entering the workforce, students will find that the information needed tosolve the problem at hand is not neatly summarized in a question statement, and that theanalytical procedure that should be employed in a given situation may not be concisely outlinedin related textbook examples. In order to prepare undergraduate engineering students for the ill-defined, unfamiliar types of problems they will face after graduating, activities and projects canbe developed that foster students’ critical thinking through providing (a) a real-world context inwhich to solve engineering problems, (b) realistic data sources to consult with (includinginformation that may be ambiguous, irrelevant, or incorrect), and (c) the industry-standardanalytical and design software tools with which to integrate realistic information in solving thereal-world problem. This paper is a profile of a student project that combined elements ofengineering problem solving and software tool utilization in order to perform a service learningproject in the areas of hydraulic engineering and hydrology.Senior-level undergraduate students enrolled in a first course in hydrology were introduced to thefollowing real-world scenario by a speaker from the local sanitation district: during wet-weatherevents, the combined sewer in a certain neighborhood occasionally experiences incidents wherethe combined stormwater runoff and sewage flow rates exceed pipe capacity. When this occurs,wastewater enters residents’ basements, causing inconvenience and damage. The sanitationdistrict would like to evaluate whether residential disconnection of roof drains (i.e., the raingutters on peoples’ homes) will lead to a significant reduction in the frequency and severity ofthese basement backups. The sanitation district’s actual mapping resources for the project areaare provided to students, showing the pipe network details that are known. Students are alsodirected to additional sources of information, such as plat maps from the county GIS office,publicly-available aerial photography, and field visits to the project area, which is approximatelytwo miles from campus. Students are asked to first develop a schematic understanding of howstormwater flows over and through the project area, including a site assessment of how manyresidents currently have connected roof drains, student-estimated rational runoff coefficients forlots, the flow capacity of the existing drainage network, and time of concentration relationships.After gathering information and documenting a conceptual hydrologic scheme for the area, thenthis information is translated into a computerized model of the project area and its hydrologyusing an industry standard software tool (i.e., Bentley StormCAD). Through repeated iterationof various roof-drain disconnection percentages, students characterize the reduction instormwater flows that can be expected for the project area, and are thus able to answer thesanitation district’s driving question of how effective roof-drain disconnection might be atreducing problematic sewer backups. Through experiencing a real-world engineering analysisproject, students are able to provide a valuable service to the local sanitation district, and becomemore proficient at critical thinking and problem solving in a realistic environment, with realistictools and resources.

Wait, I. W., & Huffman, J. T., & Anderson, C. T. (2013, June), Fostering Critical Thinking Through A Service-Learning, Combined Sewer Analysis Project In An Undergraduate Course in Hydrologic Engineering Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19628

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