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Impacts of Sustainability Education on the Attitudes of Engineering Students

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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

Environmental Engineering Division: Sustainability and Hands-On Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

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Paper Authors


Angela R. Bielefeldt University of Colorado - Boulder

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Angela Bielefeldt is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering (CEAE). She serves as the Associate Chair for Undergraduate Education in the CEAE Department, as well as the ABET assessment coordinator. Professor Bielefeldt is the faculty director of the Sustainable By Design Residential Academic Program, a living-learning community where interdisciplinary students learn about and practice sustainability. Bielefeldt is also a licensed P.E. Professor Bielefeldt's research interests in engineering education include service-learning, sustainable engineering, social responsibility, ethics, and diversity.

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Sharon A. Jones P.E. University of Portland

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Sharon Jones is the Dean of the Shiley School of Engineering at the University of Portland. She is a licensed civil engineer with degrees from Columbia University, the University of Florida, and Carnegie Mellon University. Her research interests focus on applying decision-making methods to evaluate sustainability policies with emphases on infrastructure, developing economies, and particular industrial sectors. She is also interested in engineering pedagogy, promoting diversity in the engineering profession, and developing opportunities to bridge engineering and the liberal arts.

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Jennifer Mueller PE P.E. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology


Kathryn Schulte Grahame Northeastern University

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Dr. Kathryn Schulte Grahame is an Associate Teaching Professor at Northeastern University. As part of her Gateway Faculty appointment she teaches freshman engineering courses as well as undergraduate civil engineering courses.

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Andrew Gillen Northeastern University Orcid 16x16

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Andrew Gillen is currently studying civil engineering as a senior at Northeastern University. He will be attending Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in the Fall of 2016 to pursue a PhD in Engineering Education.

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It is increasingly important that engineers learn how to design for sustainability, while also having the attitudes that encourage activation of their sustainable engineering knowledge. Design for sustainability may also encompass related attitudes, such as interdisciplinarity, consideration of others, and a predisposition to work globally. This study spanned multiple institutions and explored the impacts of different educational models that were aimed at impacting both students’ sustainability knowledge and the related attitudes. The research questions were: (1) To what extent do first and second-year students vary across institutions based on their motivation toward sustainable engineering, appreciation for interdisciplinary skills, consideration of others in the context of engineering, and interest in global work? (2) How do different educational models impact first and second-year students’ attitudes on these issues? We did not find large differences between the sustainability attitudes of incoming first year students across three institutions, while at one institution the environmental engineering students had higher sustainability affect as compared to civil engineering students and students who enrolled in a sustainability focused living-learning cohort. Interdisciplinary value, concern for others and global work interests were initially quite similar across institutions. Across the semester, all five course models increased students’ confidence in their sustainability knowledge; the largest gains occurred in a sustainability-focused seminar course and the smallest gains were in an introductory environmental engineering course that had a single lecture focused on sustainability. Other attitude changes were generally minor, although in some cases decreased. Students’ attitudes around sustainability may be resilient to change, particularly in formal learning environments.

Bielefeldt, A. R., & Jones, S. A., & Mueller, J., & Schulte Grahame, K., & Gillen, A. (2016, June), Impacts of Sustainability Education on the Attitudes of Engineering Students Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25552

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