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Investigating the Benefits of Group Model Building Using System Dynamics for Engineers Without Borders Students

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Models and Practices of Community Engagement for Engineering Faculty

Tagged Division

Community Engagement Division

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1039.1 - 26.1039.17



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Paper Authors


Jeffrey Paul Walters University of Colorado, Boulder

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Ph.D. Candidate in Civil Systems Engineering
Mortenson Fellow in Engineering for Developing Communities
University of Colorado Boulder

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Kaitlin Litchfield University of Colorado, Boulder

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Kaitlin Litchfield received her undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering at the University of New Hampshire and recently completed her PhD at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering Department within the Mortenson Center for Engineering in Developing Communities. Her research interest is in recruiting, educating, and retaining engineers capable of meeting global development challenges, and her current work is focused on understanding engineers involved specifically with Engineers Without Borders-USA.

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Investigating the Benefits of Group Model Building Using System Dynamics for EngineersWithout Borders StudentsMore than ever, future engineering students will need improved tools to more holistically understandthe complexities inherent in planning, implementing, and managing, healthy and sustainabledevelopment projects. Programs such as Engineers without Borders (EWB) have always had theobjective of teaching systems thinking skills to address the complex systemic community issues inherentin international infrastructure development; however, methodologies used to foster systems thinkinghave historically remained implicit, and have primarily focused on reductionist approaches to projectassessment, design, and evaluation. Group Model Building using System Dynamics (GMB-SD) has beensuccessfully used for years in multiple fields to foster and grow understanding on a complex topic usingthe combined insight from multiple stakeholders to build informative qualitative diagrams andquantitative simulations. However, this tool has not been used in the context of engineering education,specifically focused on sustainable community development. This study proposes GMB-SD as a tool forEWB students interested in development engineering to more aptly grapple with the complex issuesthey will invariably face in their projects abroad and in their careers. The aims of this study were tointroduce GMB-SD to two groups of EWB students and assess the degree to which the exerciseimproved their understanding of systemic interaction of factors that influence the sustainability of theirprojects. This paper will discuss the process used to introduce GMB-SD to the students and theirreactions throughout and after the process. In addition, it will illustrate differences between individual’scausal loop diagrams prior to using GMB-SD and the groups’ diagrams after using GMB-SD to assessgroups’ collective growth in understanding. Based on previous literature, we expect that this tool canelicit drastic improvement in understanding the complexity of EWB projects, which would provideevidence for the future use of GMB-SD as a tool for applying systems thinking in internationalinfrastructure development projects.

Walters, J. P., & Litchfield, K. (2015, June), Investigating the Benefits of Group Model Building Using System Dynamics for Engineers Without Borders Students Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24376

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