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Problem Based Learning Opportunities Through Engineers Without Borders

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Service-Learning in Developing Communities

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1184.1 - 12.1184.13



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Paper Authors

author page

Beth Wittig City College of the City University of New York

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Problem-based learning opportunities through Engineers Without Borders


Engineers Without Borders (EWB) is an international organization that seeks to improve the quality of life of disadvantaged peoples around the world through water, sanitation, power, and structural engineering solutions. The City College of New York inaugurated their student chapter of the organization in 2005. Most of the 40 students who are involved in the chapter are in pursuit of undergraduate degrees in Civil, Mechanical, and Chemical Engineering, but there are also a handful of students pursuing degrees in Economics, Public Health, Spanish, and Communications. The student chapter is advised by a professionally licensed Environmental Engineer and faculty in the Civil Engineering (CE) Department at the CUNY City College of New York (CCNY). The chapter also receives guidance from a licensed Structural Engineer and CE faculty, and from a practicing licensed Environmental Engineer.

Our first project is nearing completion. In this project, we are developing a potable water supply to serve over 350 people, distributed across several valleys in a mountainous region in Honduras. Even by Honduran standards, the people in this community are poor, with limited education, no power or sanitation system, and a periodically contaminated water supply that leads to infectious stomach and skin diseases. Our design will protect a spring, collect water from it, conduit the water over a mile of hilly tropical rainforest with dense vegetation and inconsistent geology, disinfect the water in a centralized tank located close to the community, and then distribute the treated water to several locations throughout the community. As a result of public health issues that were observed during our assessment trip, the chapter will also educate the community on practices to manage solid waste and improve ventilation in homes. The approximate cost to assess and implement this project is $35,000.

EWB projects undertaken by student chapters follow the problem-based learning (PBL) approach by definition. Students work in small groups to investigate and solve an ill-structured real-world problem under the guidance of a facilitator in several steps: describe the problem, identify learning issues, conduct research and incorporate knowledge, and finally, assess. The PBL approach is believed to alter traditional teaching and learning patterns by allowing students to take charge of their own learning, develop a varied and deeper perspective and knowledge of the subject area and mimic the problem-solving that takes place in professional practice and in the normal workplace. Students participating in the CCNY EWB chapter assert that their participation in EWB helped them to develop new skills not taught in the classroom, such as proposal writing, project management, multi-disciplinary collaboration, assessment of social and economic impact, and social responsibility. They also assert that EWB has provided a unique opportunity for them to refine their grasp of concepts learned in class by applying their engineering and professionalism skills to important problems in real environments.


Wittig, B. (2007, June), Problem Based Learning Opportunities Through Engineers Without Borders Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1776

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