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Life Cycle Thinking and Engineering in Developing Communities: Addressing International Sustainability Challenges in the Classroom

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Environmental Engineering Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Pablo K. Cornejo California State University, Chico

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Dr. Pablo K. Cornejo is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at California State University, Chico. Dr. Cornejo received his Ph.D. and Master's degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of South Florida (USF) and B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder. His research focused on the sustainability of water, wastewater, and integrated resource recovery systems; water and sanitation issues in the developing world; and sustainability in engineering education. Pablo is passionate about teaching and increasing the participation of underrepresented students in STEM.

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Kevin Orner University of South Florida

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Kevin Orner is a Ph.D. Candidate in Environmental Engineering at the University of South Florida, where he studies nutrient management of wastewater. Kevin was a Teaching Assistant and course instructor for the Sustainable Development Engineering course in Fall 2014. After obtaining a B.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering with a certificate in Technical Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Kevin served for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Panama. In December 2011, he completed his M.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of South Florida. Kevin is an E.I.T. with engineering consulting experience.

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Title: Life cycle thinking and engineering in developing communities: Addressing international sustainability challenges in the classroom


Integrating sustainability issues into engineering curriculum can be used to expose undergraduates to complex global challenges related to the food-water-energy nexus. This paper explores the integration of engineering in developing communities and life cycle thinking for civil, mechanical, and mechatronic engineering students (n=79) at a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) through a semester-long group project. Life cycle assessment (LCA) and life cycle cost analysis (LCCA) were used to analyze the environmental and economic impacts of energy recovery, water reuse, and nutrient recycling processes from a small-scale agricultural wastewater treatment system in rural Costa Rica. Students’ ability to solve problems and produce solutions that accounted for environmental, economic, and social factors were evaluated using direct measures of student performance on specific assignments (e.g., final report, final video presentation) and indirect measures using a self-efficacy questionnaire. Direct measures were graded by the instructor of the course and an in-country partner using rubrics to assess: (1) problem definition in a global context, (2) life cycle assessment skills, (3) life cycle cost analysis skills, (4) ability to integrate social and cultural implications of proposed solutions, (5) written communication, and (6) oral communication. Students performed well in defining problems in a global context, conducting an economic analysis, and communicating via oral presentations. Improvements could be made in assessing environmental impacts, accounting for social implications of proposed solutions, and written communication via written reports. The self-efficacy questionnaire highlighted that increased communication between students and stakeholders in Costa Rica could improve understandings of social and cultural implications of proposed solutions. Additionally, restructuring the course to increase exposure to life cycle assessment could be used to improve student performance in assessing environmental impacts of engineering alternatives. This research provides insight on ways to address new ABET student outcomes 2-4 while exposing students to important global issues in environmental engineering. Additionally, this paper provides a model for future courses interested in conducting project-based learning on sustainability issues in a global context, especially for cases when international travel for large groups of students is cost-prohibitive.

Cornejo, P. K., & Orner, K. (2019, June), Life Cycle Thinking and Engineering in Developing Communities: Addressing International Sustainability Challenges in the Classroom Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33065

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