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Hands On Projects To Engage Non Engineering Students

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.538.1 - 6.538.8

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Paper Authors

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Peter Weiss

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Donald Weiss

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

Session 3151

Hands-on Projects to Engage Non-engineering Students

Peter T. Weiss, Donald J. Weiss Valparaiso University/Michigan Technological University


Three hands-on projects intended to engage the non-engineering student in environmental issues are introduced and discussed. In the first, students use different sized agar cubes with a diffusing dye to observe how surface area to volume relationships affect mass transfer rates. Results can be used to introduce students to issues such as cellular diffusion, air stripping towers, trickling filters, and aeration processes. The second project investigates the effectiveness of toilet paper as a barrier to Escherichia coli. By working with a culture of E. coli, students learn that toilet paper is not always an effective barrier between microorganisms and skin. Results can lead to discussions on pathogens, sanitary issues and the spreading of disease, indicator organisms, and wastewater treatment processes. In the third project, students create a closed population of yeast cells and watch the population rise exponentially until it crashes several days later. Comparisons to the Earth as a closed and/or open system can follow, along with a discussion of population growth models, carrying capacity, population control, and other ethical issues.


Multidisciplinary! Whether in engineering or a non-technical career, multidisciplinary describes today’s workplace. For engineers this may mean working on a team of other engineers with different specialties. Often times, however, it involves working with, or relating technical information to, people with little or no technical background. For example, an engineer may be asked to give a presentation at a public meeting or may work with the business department regarding the economics of a particular project. As a result, engineering curriculums across the country are striving to prepare their graduates to better meet these challenges. But is it enough to work within the engineering community? As evidenced by this session whose objective is to reach out to non-engineering/non-college populations, many believe it is not. Such is the case at Valparaiso University where the Lilly Foundation has funded the development of a new course which has been designed to promote interchange between engineering faculty and liberal arts students as well as to help non-engineering majors better understand the importance and relevance of technology in our society. The objective of the course is to increase the awareness and understanding that political science majors have with respect to the interrelationship between the environment, technology, and providing an increasing human population with an adequate standard of living. It also seeks to provide political science majors with the tools needed to make decisions regarding technical issues and the environment that will best serve society. In meeting these objectives this course well help prepare a part of the work force for the multidisciplinary aspects that will almost certainly be encountered.

In an attempt to engage the non-engineering students in the issues at hand, small labs and/or hands-on projects were performed as part of the class. These labs were intended to encourage faculty-student contact, cooperation among students, and active learning, all of which are Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Weiss, P., & Weiss, D. (2001, June), Hands On Projects To Engage Non Engineering Students Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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