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Long-term Impacts of Project-Based Learning in Science and Engineering

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Novel Pedagogies 1

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.874.1 - 23.874.25



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Paper Authors


Arthur C Heinricher Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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Arthur Heinricher is Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Professor of Mathematical Sciences at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Dr. Heinricher joined the faculty of WPI in 1992, with a B.S. in Applied Mathematics from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Carnegie Mellon.

His primary responsibility as Dean of Undergraduate Studies is to assess and ensure the quality of undergraduate programs at WPI. He helped guide the development of WPI’s Great Problems Seminars engaging first year students with interdisciplinary projects tied to problems of current, global importance. He served as Director of the Center for Industrial Mathematics and Statistics at WPI and worked with more than 100 students on more than 30 different mathematics projects with business and industry. He was also principal investigator on WPI’s Research Experience for Undergraduates in Industrial Mathematics and Statistics and was co-organizer of the Mathematics in Industry Institutes for High School Teachers at WPI.

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Paula Quinn Quinn Evaluation Consulting

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Paula Quinn is an independent evaluation consultant with Quinn Evaluation Consulting. She specializes in the field of education and has worked on projects funded by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Education, state departments of education, and private colleges and universities. She holds an M.A. in Developmental Psychology from Clark University and a B.A. in Psychology from Case Western Reserve University.

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Richard F. Vaz Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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Richard F. Vaz received the PhD in electrical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), specializing in signal analysis and machine vision. He held systems and design engineering positions with the Raytheon Company, GenRad Inc., and the MITRE Corporation before joining the WPI Electrical and Computer Engineering faculty in 1987. Rick is currently Dean of the Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division at WPI, with oversight of WPI’s Global Perspective Program, a worldwide network of 35 Project Centers to which more than 600 students per year travel to address problems for local agencies and organizations under faculty supervision. Rick also oversees the Division’s academic unit, which focuses on local and regional sustainability in support of WPI’s interdisciplinary degree requirement.

Rick’s teaching and research interests include service and experiential learning, engineering design and appropriate technology, and internationalizing engineering education. He has developed and advised hundreds of student research projects in the Americas, Africa, Australia, Asia, and Europe. Rick has published over 55 peer-reviewed or invited papers and is the recipient of numerous teaching and advising awards including the WPI Trustees’ Awards for Outstanding Teaching and for Outstanding Advising. From 2004 to 2010 he served as a Senior Science Fellow of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

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Kent J Rissmiller Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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Associate Dean, Interdisciplinary and Global Studies
Associate Professor, Social Science and Policy Studies

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Long-term Impacts of Project-Based Learning in Science and EngineeringAbstractProject-based learning (PBL), in many forms and under other names, now has a significantpresence in K-12 education, higher education in general, and engineering education in particular.Many studies have focused on the impact of PBL on student engagement, student retention, andstudent learning during and immediately after a course or program. This paper will focus on thelong-term impact of PBL, especially on graduates’ perceptions of the connection between PBLand their own professional and personal development.The participants in the study were science and engineering graduates from a university featuringa project-based curriculum. All of the participants had completed significant project work, bothin the major and as part of a general education program, and graduated between 1974 and 2011.The study began with an ideation exercise in which a stratified random sample of alumni wassurveyed to help identify the most significant, from their point of view, components of theirundergraduate program. The exercise informed the development of a survey that included 39Likert scale questions asking alumni about impacts of project work in three main areas:professional skills (e.g., problem solving, collaboration, communication, leadership); worldviews (e.g., connections between technology and society, global issues); and personal impacts(e.g., development of personal character, enrichment of life in ways not related to academics,achievement of work/life balance). The survey was distributed to a random sample of more than10,000 graduates, with a response rate of just over 25%.This paper will provide a review of the main results of the survey, along with some analysis ofhow difference in graduation year, major, and type of project experience (on-campus or off-campus with an external sponsor) are related to the long-term impacts. For example, whilealumni reported strong satisfaction with the technical preparation for careers and graduateschool, the survey shows that significant project work, especially project work outside theclassroom, had many impacts more traditionally ascribed to liberal education than to engineeringand science curricula.

Heinricher, A. C., & Quinn, P., & Vaz, R. F., & Rissmiller, K. J. (2013, June), Long-term Impacts of Project-Based Learning in Science and Engineering Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19888

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