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Project-Based Learning and Collaboration among STEM, Arts, Business, and the Community: Launch Lab Case Study

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2020 ASEE North Central Section conference


Morgantown, West Virginia

Publication Date

March 27, 2020

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March 27, 2020

End Date

May 20, 2020

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Jason Zapka Youngstown State University

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Jason Zapka is an Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering Technology at Youngstown State University.

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John Martin Youngstown State University

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John Martin is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Technology at Youngstown State University.

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STEM students’ mastery of the knowledge, skills, and abilities within the silo of their academic discipline does not necessarily correlate to their early career success. Students who have become accustomed to providing the “one right answer”, solving a problem using the “one correct approach”, and collaborating only with peers in their major, may struggle applying themselves after graduation. Unlike in school, in the workforce, performance will require context for how one’s own work fits within the complex multi-faceted project-based goals of their organization. Furthermore, technical employees must be able to effectively communicate and collaborate with diverse experts from other disciplines, such as business and the arts. Therefore, students given the opportunity to learn through project-based learning (PBL), an integrated education that includes the arts with STEM (STEAM), as well as interdisciplinary group-dependent work will be more successful. Launch Lab, an initiative started three years ago, was founded at our university to create enhanced project-based, multi-disciplinary learning opportunities for students while also delivering value to both the university its community. Launch lab operates an additive manufacturing makerspace that provides several students part-time jobs and services to students and faculty. Membership, participation, and funding for the Launch Lab are shared among the colleges of business, arts, and STEM. Each year, dozens of students participate in diverse real-world projects which have included helping a local company to design replacement parts for antique furniture restoration, applying additive manufacturing to produce metal-cast coat hooks with the university logo for use on campus, and designing an outdoor engineering display. Some students receive course credit for participation while some receive part-time wages. Project teams are comprised of STEM, art, and business students and faculty, and sometimes community members. Providing students interdisciplinary, project-based learning opportunities in a university setting is rewarding, yet it can be challenging. We will describe how our Launch lab was formed and structured. We will also discuss factors that enable our ongoing success and provide advice on overcoming inevitable challenges. Topics will include university support, leadership, funding, faculty engagement, community networking, student recruitment, project selection criteria, project duration, and student assessment. We believe that our Launch Lab organization is an important and valuable model for how a university can ensure the long-term career success of their students.

Zapka, J., & Martin, J. (2020, March), Project-Based Learning and Collaboration among STEM, Arts, Business, and the Community: Launch Lab Case Study Paper presented at 2020 ASEE North Central Section conference, Morgantown, West Virginia.

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