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Learning from Failure: Developing a Typology to Enhance Global Service-learning Engineering Projects

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Models of community engagement practices

Tagged Division

Community Engagement Division

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.853.1 - 24.853.12



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Paper Authors


Andrea Mazzurco Purdue University Orcid 16x16

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Andrea Mazzurco is a Ph.D. student in Engineering Education at Purdue University. He earned a B.C. in Aerospace Engineering at Politecnico di Milano, Italy, and a M.S. in Aeronautics and Astronautics at Purdue University. His research interests include global engineering education, critical and emancipatory pedagogies in engineering projects for sustainable community development, and social justice education for engineers.

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Brent K. Jesiek Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Dr. Brent K. Jesiek is Assistant Professor in the Schools of Engineering Education and Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University. He is also an Associate Director of Purdue's Global Engineering Program, leads the Global Engineering Education Collaboratory (GEEC) research group, and is the recent recipient of an NSF CAREER award to study boundary-spanning roles and competencies among early career engineers. He holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Michigan Tech and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from Virginia Tech. Dr. Jesiek draws on expertise from engineering, computing, and the social sciences to advance understanding of geographic, disciplinary, and historical variations in engineering education and professional practice.

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Learning from Failure: Developing a Typology to Enhance Engineering Projects for DevelopmentGlobal service-learning programs have gained considerable prominence in many engineeringschools. In many of these programs, students respond to a problem situated in an internationalcontext over the course of one or more semesters and they might travel abroad to deliver adesigned product or solution. Such international project experiences provide significant learningfor participants, especially as related to interdisciplinary teamwork, communication skills,lifelong learning, and navigating across cultures. However, partnerships between engineers andglobal communities can be considerably complex and many projects fail, doing more harm thangood to partnering communities. Engineers Without Borders (EWB)-Canada is one of the firstorganizations to report on their own failures in their annual Failure Report, and they have alsomaintained a web site (Admitting Failure, that encouragesdevelopment-oriented workers and organizations to document and discuss failure cases. On thisweb site, the failure stories include two main sections: a description of the failure and thelearning that resulted. Similarly, texts such as Lucena, Schneider, and Leydens’ (2010)Engineering and Sustainable Community Development features many insightful examples ofengineering projects that did not succeed due to various reasons. Many other cases are availableon the Internet, in databases, and in other published literature. Yet, no one has attempted tosystematically analyze and categorize these failures to create a framework that can be used toinform practice.In this study, I make the first steps toward creating a failure typology that can help engineeringstudents and practitioners improve their work in international development. My guidingquestions include: 1) what kinds of failures occur in engineering project for development?, and 2)What can we learn from these failures? In order to answer such questions, cases were collectedfrom a variety of written and online sources. The following inclusion criteria were used: 1) thecase must discuss an engineered product or process, and 2) the failure discussed in the case wasnot due to a technical problem with the product or process. These criteria were adopted becauseengineering already has powerful instruments to understand and quantify technical failure, e.g.,FMEA and Fault Tree Analysis. However, engineers lack a similarly comprehensive andpowerful framework to understand the more qualitative aspects of failed projects. Aftercompiling the cases, I inductively analyzed and categorized them using a two-dimensionaltypology. The first dimension of the typology is mode of failure, such as failure to learn, failureto apply knowledge, or failure to adapt to change. The second dimension refers to the socio-cultural, environmental, and/or economic characteristics of the failures. This encompassesgender roles, money management and value, geographic location, forms of communication, andleadership roles and community organization. I conclude the paper with suggestions for usingthis typological framework to better prepare engineering students and professionals fordevelopment work.The primary audiences for this paper include students who are involved with organizations suchas EWB or enrolled in global service-learning programs, and for educators who are trying toprepare students for the non-technical aspects of their design.Keywords: engineering for development, failure, global, international, service-learning

Mazzurco, A., & Jesiek, B. K. (2014, June), Learning from Failure: Developing a Typology to Enhance Global Service-learning Engineering Projects Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20744

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