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International Community Based Projects And Engineering Education: The Advisor's Viewpoint

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

International Distance & Service Learning for Engineers- Discussion on Best Practices

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Page Count


Page Numbers

12.949.1 - 12.949.13



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Paper Authors


Chris Swan Tufts University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Swan is an Associate Professor in and current chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at Tufts University. His current interests are the reuse of recovered or recyclable materials and sustainable construction.

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David Gute Tufts University

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Dr. Gute is an Associate Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Tufts university. He has traveled numerous times with the teams who have gone to Ghana. His research interests are in occupational and environmental health.

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Douglas Matson Tufts University

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Dr. Matson is an Associate Professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Tufts University. He traveled with the student team during the assessment visit to Tibet, China. His research interests are in manufacturing and materials science.

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John Durant Tufts University

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Dr. Durant is an Associate Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at Tufts University. He has traveled with a number of teams to places such as Ghana and El Salvador. His current interests are in the area of fate and transport of contaminants in the environment.

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

International Community-Based Projects and Engineering Education: The Advisor’s Viewpoint Abstract There has been tremendous growth in the interest of engineering students to perform community service projects on an international scale. National organizations, such as Engineers Without Borders and Engineers for a Sustainable World, have provided a mechanism for students to do such works and further develop both their technical and non-technical skills. Over the last few years, student teams from Tufts University, many times teaming engineering with non- engineering students, have undertaken projects in Ecuador, El Salvador, Ghana, and Tibet. Each project presents unique issues, but there are also elements common to all.

This paper describes three projects and presents some of the lessons learned in forming, orchestrating, and delivering meaningful learning experiences for students from the viewpoint of the faculty advisor. Both positive and negative lessons can be found in areas such as project organization, management, and ultimately in delivery; proper reconnaissance and trip planning; advisor attitude and expectations and how they may differ from those of the students; and assessment of real-versus-perceived benefits from the perspective of educational benefit to the student. We conclude that international, service-learning projects are a valuable pedagogical tool for educating engineering students when expectations are fully communicated and transparent. Proper assessment of these efforts would more strongly validate the use of such projects.

Introduction In engineering education, international projects provide students the opportunity to apply their technical know-how in multidisciplinary teams of engineers (civil, mechanical, chemical, etc.), natural scientists (geology, chemistry, physics, biology, etc.) and other specialized disciplines (microbiology, geochemistry, toxicology, etc.). However, effectively developing solutions to environmental problems often involves mastery of critical non-technical subjects such as project management, communication, local and regional politics, economics, culture, and the concerns of affected stakeholders.

Tufts School of Engineering has been involved in several projects focused on environmental issues and public health. Many of these efforts have involved projects and/or activities in local (Boston, MA area) communities and provide the opportunity to apply concepts of community- based service learning (CSL) in engineering education1, 2 , 3, 4. There is a growing literature on the value of CSL as a tool to help students develop deeper appreciation of engineering concepts as well as to communicate their engineering solutions to both technical and lay audiences5, 6, 7, 8.

In the last few years a number of international projects have emerged that have taken teams of students (each with faculty advisors) to locations such as Ghana in West Africa and the Tibet region of China9, 10. Student teams, often a mixture of undergraduate and graduate students from various disciplines, need the support and guidance of one or more faculty advisors. Depending on the project, the faculty advisor may serve as the lead in project orchestration or in a more limited role of as an equal (yet more experienced) team member. The value of these projects to the learning experience of the students involved can be significant as well as life-affecting. However, the formulation of appropriate projects as well as designing and implementing

Swan, C., & Gute, D., & Matson, D., & Durant, J. (2007, June), International Community Based Projects And Engineering Education: The Advisor's Viewpoint Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2207

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