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Global Interests and Experience Among First-Year Civil Engineering Students

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

First-Year Activities and Peer Review Strategies in Civil Engineering

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.751.1 - 22.751.21

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Paper Authors


Angela R. Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

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Angela Bielefeldt, Ph.D., P.E., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, & Architectural Engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU). She is affiliated with the Mortenson Center in Engineering for Developing Communities at CU. She has taught the first-year Introduction to Civil Engineering course 13 times, starting in 1997. She also teaches a senior capstone Environmental Engineering Design course, which included international water and sanitation projects in 2001, 2002, 2006, and 2010. Her research interests include ceramic water filters for developing countries, bioremediation, and engineering education.

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Global Interests and Experience among First-Year Civil Engineering StudentsAbstractGlobalization is one of the desired outcomes for civil engineers articulated in the ASCE Body ofKnowledge (BOK2). However, the general level of awareness and interest of our students inglobal issues is poorly understood. Anecdotal evidence for global interest is the high level ofstudent participation in Engineers Without Borders (EWB) around the country. Student interestand awareness of global issues may impact the ease with which civil engineering programs caninstill the requisite globalization knowledge, comprehension, and application competencies inour students. This project explored issues related to globalization among students enrolled in afirst-year introduction to civil engineering course. First, some of the students completed avoluntary survey at the beginning of the semester. In 2007, 2008, and 2010, 66%, 60%, and 56%of the students, respectively, self-reported that they had lived in and/or traveled to three or morecountries. Only a small fraction had participated in service activities outside the U.S.; 10%,10%, and 10% in 2007, 2008, and 2010, respectively. The same survey measured students’“universal diverse orientation” (UDO) using the previously-validated MGUDS-S instrument;these scores increased slightly over time from 12.8, 12.9, and 13.2 in 2007, 2008, and 2010,respectively. In 2010 the overall UDO score was higher among male students who had traveledto 3 or more countries compared to less widely traveled male students (13.5 vs. 12.6,respectively). Student opinions on four other questions related to international aspects andstakeholder impacts were also collected. Global travel experience was only found to correlate todifferences in the level of agreement (5-point Likert scale) for one of the four questions: Thetechnology that is used in the US is likely the best technology to use to solve similar technicalproblems in other countries; average response 3.5 for students with less global travel comparedto average response of 4.1 for students who had traveled to 3 or more countries. In the first homework assignment, students were asked to select the five knowledge orskills that they believed were the most important for civil engineers. They were given the BOK2as a reference for this assignment. In fall 2010 only 3 of 55 students rated globalization in theirtop 5; similar to the results from a survey of senior civil engineering students who rankedglobalization in the bottom 3 of the 24 BOK2 topics. For their term papers, students rated their interest level in topics which ranged from local(3 in state) to national (6 additional in U.S.) to international (6 projects). Their relative interest inthese topics indicates the degree to which the first year students are interested in civilengineering globally. In 2009 the topics most frequently rated in the top 4 (of 15 options) by thestudents were: China’s Olympic structures, the World Trade Center, and Palm Island. Thus 2 ofthe top 3 student choices were international projects. On average, two of the four projectsselected by individual students were international; only 1 of the 45 students did not select anyinternational projects in their top 4. Additional data on student interest in international vs.domestic projects will become available for the fall 2010 class. Due to group presentations bythe students to their peers, all students in the course learned something about both theinternational and domestic projects. Other required content in the course touches on global issues. Sustainable developmentchallenges were presented, particularly the need for water and sanitation, differences inenvironmental footprint, and the human development index. In the ethics unit, one of the threemoral exemplar choices was Fred Cuny, who worked in global development. When discussingthe ASCE Infrastructure Report Card some students were interested in how the U.S.infrastructure compared to global infrastructure, and the World Economic Forum GlobalCompetitiveness Report results were supplied to all students. In the final reflective essays for thecourse, 25% of the students in 2009 and only 14% of the students in 2008 included global,international, and/or third world issues in their final discussion. Content analysis of the finalcourse essays will also be conducted in 2010. This research found indications that many civil engineering students are interested inglobal issues. International examples were readily incorporated into the freshman introductorycourse, and could form the basis for examples in other courses. This cumulative exposure toglobal issues could develop the requisite globalization competencies in students. Some studentsmay also take advantage of significant international experiences through international certificateprograms, study abroad, and extracurricular service activities such as EWB.

Bielefeldt, A. R. (2011, June), Global Interests and Experience Among First-Year Civil Engineering Students Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC.

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