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Impacts of a University-wide Service Learning Program on a Senior Undergraduate Capstone Course

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Diversity in Community Engagement Implementation II

Tagged Division

Community Engagement Division

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Paper Authors


Jennifer Queen Retherford University of Tennessee, Knoxville

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Dr. Retherford is an alumna of the University of Nebraska, Omaha, and received her graduate degrees from Vanderbilt University. She currently teaches a variety of courses supporting the department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Tennessee. Among many structural engineering courses, Dr. Retherford manages the Senior Design Project course for all undergraduate seniors.

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Kelly Summerford Ellenburg The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

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Kelly Ellenburg serves as the Director of the Office of Service-Learning and the Smart Communities Initiative at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. As the founder of the University’s first Office of Service-Learning, Mrs. Ellenburg oversees a wide range of institutional efforts related to service-learning and serves as an entry point for community involvement in the same. She is also the founding director of UT’s Smart Communities Initiative (SCI), a large-scale interdisciplinary service-learning collaborative that works with local government partners across the state to address a range of livability and resilience issues. The SCI is part of a growing network of Sustainable City Year Programs, the first of which was established at the University of Oregon. The program is designed to help communities advance long-term community development goals by leveraging university scholarship and community collaboration towards sustainable, equitable, research-based planning solutions. In 2014 UT adopted the SCI as the feature program for their new Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), Experience Learning. The Office of Service-Learning is now preparing for expansion as the QEP moves into implementation. Mrs. Ellenburg is also the founder and chair of the University’s Service-Learning Steering Committee, composed of designated faculty from each academic college working to build the profile and capacity of service-learning across campus through initiatives such as the “S” course designation and showcasing of best practices. Mrs. Ellenburg's work on campus-level initiatives at UT has included service on the 2015 SACS Quality Enhancement Plan writing team, the 2014 Carnegie Community Engagement writing team, the 2010 UT Community Engagement Task Force writing team, and coordinating author for the 2010 whitepaper “Student Ownership, and the College Experience.” Last year she received the Chancellor’s Award for Environmental Leadership for her leadership of sustainability-focused service-learning and the SCI. Mrs. Ellenburg serves on the Board of Directors for the Educational Partnerships for Innovation in Communities Network (EPIC-N), the Board of Advisors for East Tennessee Quality Growth, and as the University’s designee and ex-officio Commissioner to the Governor’s Commission on Volunteerism and Service. She holds a Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration and a Bachelors of Fine Arts, both from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Mrs. Ellenburg is also a wife and mother of two girls, ages twelve and five.

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Impacts of a University-wide Service Learning Program on a Senior Undergraduate Capstone Course Abstract Experiential learning in a civil engineering senior design project, or capstone, course requires significant preparation and coordination, but has been recognized as an extremely powerful pedagogy. The value of service-based learning in engineering education has been well documented as serving to better demonstrate “real world problems”, improve community awareness and responsibility, and develop “soft skills” necessary for engineering practice. A university-wide service learning program provides an opportunity for enrichment of experiential learning within the Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) department at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT). The relationship established through the university network provides opportunities that are not easily replicated through engineering-only experiential learning opportunities. The UT Smart Communities Initiative (UT SCI) program serves as a model for service-based learning as the interdisciplinary program strives to engage students from across the university to share in identifying solutions to address community needs. This program pairs university faculty and students with community partners, providing well-organized, dedicated teams able to develop solutions to complex multidisciplinary problems. The specific structure of this program, modeled after the University of Oregon Sustainable Cities Initiative, enhances the success of the student performance by suitably developing a partnership for which all entities involved are responsible and engaged, recognizing the need to maintain efficient communication and response to student needs with respect to the academic calendar. The following paper contains: a brief history of service-learning programs in engineering academia, a summary of the development and design of the UT SCI program, a summary of the UT CEE senior design project partnership during the inaugural year of the program, and recommendations for assessment of the program objectives with respect to the university, department, and community partners.

Retherford, J. Q., & Ellenburg, K. S. (2016, June), Impacts of a University-wide Service Learning Program on a Senior Undergraduate Capstone Course Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25548

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