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Incorporating Life Cycle Assessment in an Introduction to Engineering Course

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Before the Capstone: Project-based Experiences Early in the Curriculum

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Paper Authors


Mary Roth Lafayette College

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Mary Roth is the Simon Cameron Long Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. She received her degrees in civil engineering from Lafayette College (B.S.), Cornell University (M.S.), and the University of Maine (Ph.D.). She joined the faculty at Lafayette in 1991. Her teaching interests include geotechnical and foundation engineering, introduction to engineering courses, and courses designed to engage students from the arts, humanities, and social science with engineering topics. Her research interests include risk assessment for earth retaining structures, site investigation methods in karst areas, the use of bacteria to modify the engineering properties of soils, and engineering pedagogy. She has authored or co-authored over 70 publications and has served as principal or co-principal on nine grants from the National Science Foundation. At Lafayette College Dr. Roth has served as Associate Provost for Academic Operations, Director of Engineering, and Department Head of Civil and Environmental Engineering in addition to multiple faculty committee assignments. She has led campus-wide accreditation and assessment initiatives, implemented new faculty orientation programs, directed the development of multiple proposals to private foundations, and coordinated interdisciplinary academic programs. She has received a number of awards in recognition of her scholarship and teaching including a Fulbright research scholarship in Norway, an American Council of Education Fellowship, and multiple teaching awards. Dr. Roth is a member of ASCE, ASEE, and GBA. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Tau Beta Pi and is a licensed engineer in the states of Maine and Pennsylvania.

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Haritha Malladi Lafayette College

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Haritha Malladi is a Visiting Assistant Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. Bachelor of Technology degree in Civil Engineering from National Institute of Technology, Warangal, India. She earned her Master of Science and doctoral degrees in Civil Engineering from North Carolina State University. Her research interests lie in the area of sustainability in asphalt pavements using material considerations, green technologies, and efficient pavement preservation techniques. Her doctoral work focused on improving the performance of recycled asphalt pavements using warm mix asphalt additives. As a postdoctoral scholar at North Carolina State University, she worked on several NCDOT sponsored research projects including developing specifications for crack sealant application and performing field measurements of asphalt emulsion application in tack coats and chip seals. As a postdoctoral scholar, she also taught several sections of statics and strength of materials at NC State University. Alongside teaching, she is passionate about science communication and public involvement in science. She is a winner of three-minute thesis competitions at university and national-level competitions. She has been invited to conduct several workshops on communicating technical concepts to different target audiences. She is interested in incorporating data-driven research, citizen science, and experiential learning into teaching and outreach.

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In light of changing climate, increasing global population, and the need to repair or replace aging and deteriorating infrastructure, sustainability and life-cycle engineering have become fundamental areas of knowledge that must be addressed within a civil engineering curriculum. Recent revisions to the ABET criteria for civil engineering programs also require the programs prepare graduates to "include principles of sustainability in design." While some civil engineering programs have responded to this requirement by requiring a course in sustainability, many programs incorporate sustainability principles across their curriculum. In this diffused approach to teaching sustainability, it is important to expose students to foundational concepts in sustainability early in their education. Courses in life cycle assessment (LCA), if offered, typically occur at the end of a bachelor of science program or as part of graduate studies. By offering this module in a class primarily taken by first-semester engineering students, the students are equipped with an analytical framework for sustainability that can be employed in any context.

This paper describes how concepts of LCA can be incorporated into an introduction to engineering class for first-year engineering students. The module as described was refined over time—it has been offered as an introduction to engineering module four times by two separate instructors. The module is easily adoptable by any instructor and can be tweaked to fit a particular focus area.

This project-based, seven-week, course module was developed in partnership with the campus sustainability office. During the first few weeks, students learn the basics of product life cycles, setting goals and scope, working in teams using the Agile framework, and performing simple qualitative and quantitative analyses required for LCA. Subsequently, the campus sustainability office acts as a “client” and provides descriptions of a number of current campus issues for students to evaluate using LCA during the latter part of the module. The teams work to develop recommendations for these issues based on LCA principles and present their recommendations to the sustainability office staff orally and in a written report. Assessments of student learning after completing the module show an increased understanding of general sustainability issues and increased knowledge of how engineering decisions can have significant impact on the life cycle impacts of engineering projects.

Roth, M., & Malladi, H. (2020, June), Incorporating Life Cycle Assessment in an Introduction to Engineering Course Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34809

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