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Learning from the World Trade Center Collapse – Use of a Failure Case Study in a Structures and Materials Laboratory Course

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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

Integrating Curriculum and Labs in ET Programs

Tagged Division

Engineering Technology

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1069.1 - 26.1069.16



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Paper Authors


Tara Cavalline P.E. University of North Carolina, Charlotte

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Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering Technology at UNC Charlotte

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Norb Delatte P.E. Cleveland State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Norbert J. Delatte, Jr., P.E., is Professor and Chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Cleveland State University. He is the author of Beyond Failure: Forensic Case Studies for Civil Engineers (ASCE Press, 2009). In addition, he is the Editor of ASCE’s Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice. Dr. Delatte is a registered professional engineer in the States of Ohio and Alabama and in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

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Learning from the World Trade Center Collapse –Use of a Failure Case Study in a Structures and Materials Laboratory CourseThe use of failure case studies has been shown to benefit technical, professional, and ethicalstudent learning outcomes in undergraduate education. Recently, incorporation of failure casestudies into undergraduate civil engineering, civil engineering technology, constructionmanagement, and architecture curriculums has been facilitated by the development ofeducational resources as part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. This paper outlinesthe approach utilized to incorporate the World Trade Center Collapse case study into a junior-level Structures and Materials Laboratory course, identifying the technical and professionalcomponent outcomes supported by this case study. Assessment techniques utilized to evaluatetechnical comprehension of the building performance, as well as to evaluate the impact of thiscase study on student’s interest in the engineering profession, are presented and discussed.Failure case studies are most relevant, and their educational value most useful, when linked tospecific course topics. Failures of structures and other civil infrastructure are often related tostructural design, mechanics of materials, and performance of materials under service (andsevere) conditions. The Structures and Materials Laboratory course is a 1-credit writing-intensive laboratory course taught to students pursuing undergraduate degrees in civilengineering technology and construction management. Since the students have alreadycompleted coursework in construction materials and construction methods, the purpose of thiscourse is to facilitate an advanced understanding of construction materials and to reinforce keystructural design concepts. Objectives include identifying various modes of failure as well asevaluating the role of materials in various modes of structural failure. A study of the WorldTrade Center (Towers 1 and 2) collapse has been successfully used in this course to illustrate anumber of key concepts supporting technical course objectives, as well as reinforcingprofessional components of the engineering profession and forensics.The textbook utilized to support implementation of this case study is Federal EmergencyManagement Agency (FEMA) Report 403, “World Trade Center Building Performance Study:Data Collection, Preliminary Observations, and Recommendations.” Written at a levelappropriate for undergraduate engineering and construction management students, this freereport provides excellent background information, schematics, and photographs that studentsfind engaging and informative. The case study is presented in a two-lecture format, with areading assignment from FEMA Report 403 between the lectures. Based on qualitative studentfeedback, the World Trade Center lectures capture attention and support course objectives.Quantitative data collected to evaluate the impact of this case study on technical understandingwas collected as part of a quiz on the material. Surveys taken at the conclusion of the courseassessed the students’ perceptions of the case study’s impact on their interest in, and theirunderstanding of, the engineering profession. It was found that understanding gained from thiscase study (and others incorporated more briefly in the course) reinforce both the TechnicalComponent and Professional Component of ABET Criterion 3 student outcomes.

Cavalline, T., & Delatte, N. (2015, June), Learning from the World Trade Center Collapse – Use of a Failure Case Study in a Structures and Materials Laboratory Course Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24406

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