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Project Based Learning In Engineering Mechanics: Inspection And Analysis Of A Historic Truss Bridge

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

What's New in Statics?

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1042.1 - 11.1042.9



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Paper Authors


Shane Palmquist Western Kentucky University

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Shane M. Palmquist is an assistant professor of civil engineering in the Department of Engineering at Western Kentucky University. Prior to becoming a faculty member at WKU, Dr. Palmquist was a structural engineer for Lichtenstein Consulting Engineers in Natick, Massachusetts. He received a BS in civil engineering from the University of New Hampshire, his MS in civil engineering from the University of Rhode Island, and his PhD in civil engineering from Tufts University. His technical interests include project-based engineering education, bridge engineering, foundation engineering, construction, and project management.

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

Project-Based Learning in Engineering Mechanics: Inspection and Analysis of a Historic Truss Bridge


The civil engineering program at Western Kentucky University (WKU) is a project-based curriculum. Students have opportunities to engage in real project activities in order to develop an understanding of civil engineering practice. Projects are chosen that support student engagement, where the role of the students is as learners, observers, assistants and practitioners. For example, in a sophomore level mechanics course at WKU, engineering students worked in teams to perform a preliminary physical field inspection and analysis of a historic steel truss bridge located in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

The focus of the paper is to present the work performed by the students and how the project was integrated into the course curriculum where the concepts of engineering mechanics discussed in class were related directly to the bridge. Students appreciated this approach to learning which offers a unique hands-on experience where students actively participate by working in the field on an existing structure.

I. Introduction

In recent years, there has been a growing trend in engineering education to include project-based learning in the classroom. Numerous engineering projects have been incorporated into the classroom including the egg drop catcher and the balsa wood bridge projects to name a couple1. The general purpose of these projects was to demonstrate what is learned in the classroom and to encourage creativity and teamwork. Most of the projects attempt to simulate a development, design and analysis experience. While there is value to this approach, there is a greater need to expose students to real life engineering projects rather than a simulated project. Unfortunately, real life engineering projects are typically left to the senior capstone course2,3. However, engineering students upon entering college need exposure to real life projects to better prepare themselves as future engineering practitioners4. Practice based projects should be an integral part of engineering courses and should be spread out over all four years of the undergraduate program not just during the senior year in a capstone design course. This approach will better prepare students for engineering practice where basic concepts taught in the classroom are directly related to real life engineering problem. It is important for engineering students to understand that the study of engineering by nature is both academic and practice based. In the past several decades, greater emphasis has been place on academic studies5.

Students in an academic setting typically have ample opportunity to become proficient in the pencil and paper rigor of engineering problem solving. However, there is a disconnect between academia and engineering practice6. The classroom learning environment is typically a passive experience such as in a lecture hall (with the exception of the laboratory courses), whereas

Palmquist, S. (2006, June), Project Based Learning In Engineering Mechanics: Inspection And Analysis Of A Historic Truss Bridge Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--368

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