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Introducing Real World Hydrology Case Studies Into An Undergraduate Civil And Environmental Engineering Curriculum

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Civil Engineering Teaching Part Three

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.805.1 - 13.805.13



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Paper Authors


Thorsten Wagener Pennsylvania State University

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Thorsten Wagener is an Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He obtained his PhD from Imperial College London prior to spending two years as a Research Associate at the University of Arizona. He joined Penn State in 2004 mainly performing research and teaching in the area of Hydrology. He can be contacted at

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Sarah Zappe Pennsylvania State University

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Sarah E. Zappe is Research Associate and Director of Assessment and Instructional Support for the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education at Pennsylvania State University. Her expertise and research interests relate to the use of think-aloud methodologies to elicit cognitive processes and strategies in assessment and related tasks. In her position, Dr. Zappe is responsible for supporting curricular assessment and developing instructional support programs for faculty and teaching assistants in the College of Engineering. She can be contacted at

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

Introducing Real-World Hydrology Case Studies into an Undergraduate Civil and Environmental Engineering Curriculum Abstract

Hydrology, the study of the movement and storage of water in the environment, originated as an engineering discipline mainly concerned with the estimation of floods and droughts. Since then, hydrology has evolved into one of the earth sciences and deals with water related issues in complex environmental systems at scales ranging from local to global. Current and future water issues require inter-disciplinary scientific approaches to provide solutions to engineering problems, often including significant social components. Climate and land use change introduce non-stationarities into the environment that many of the current engineering tools cannot consider, while a growing population continuously increase the stress on available water resources, particularly in less developed countries. An introduction to hydrology remains an important part of the general civil and environmental engineering curriculum. However, the changes in the science of hydrology have not yet fully propagated into a changed approach to teaching this important subject. We present the results of a three-semester long study in which we introduced real world case studies into a large (70-90 students) civil engineering undergraduate class to achieve this change. Over the past several semesters, students have expressed overwhelmingly positive thoughts on the course adjustments made, including the cases and other active learning elements utilized. We show and discuss evidence of the positive impact on student learning due to the closer link between the course material and real-world examples.


Hydrology has evolved from a mainly problem driven, applied engineering discipline to one of the building blocks of the geosciences and environmental sciences. Hydrology deals with watersheds (or units at other scales) as complex environmental systems without losing its focus on real world applications. The complexity of hydrologic investigations has increased over time because of the necessary inclusion of chemical and biological aspects of the hydrological cycle to address topics such as water quality and ecosystem function, as well as a need for awareness for social and ethical issues related to water. At the same time, climate and land use are changing in many regions, causing significant problems for water resources studies. Such changes mean that historical data are not representative for the region anymore, while most engineering approaches are based on the assumption that they do.

As the demands on current and future hydrologists have changed, the concern arises that hydrology training has lagged behind necessary preparation for both research and application 1, 2, 3 . There is evidence of hydrology as a science becoming more interdisciplinary and complex, evolving in its focus due to new scientific findings, computational and technical advances, and new linkages to other disciplines4, 5, 6. The importance of hydrology education in this context is supported by results of a recent survey about integrated water resources management in the USA, which found that 86% of 600 survey participants (from industry, government and academia) think that the greatest educational need lies in the area of watershed hydrology and

Wagener, T., & Zappe, S. (2008, June), Introducing Real World Hydrology Case Studies Into An Undergraduate Civil And Environmental Engineering Curriculum Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4007

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