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Project-based Sustainability Courses Provide Practical Educational Experience for Students while Advancing Sustainability within the Local Community

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Diversity in Community Engagement Implementation I

Tagged Division

Community Engagement Division

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Alison B. Hoxie University of Minnesota Duluth

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Dr. Alison B. Hoxie is an Assistant Professor in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Her education includes a B.A. in Natural Science from the College of Saint Benedict (1999), a B.S.M.E (2001) and a Ph.D. (2007) from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. She has held positions as a consulting engineering in power and energy sector, and as an Instructor at the University of Utah. Her current research focuses on cost effective methods for efficient utilization of biomass-derived oils in combustion applications.

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Mary U Christiansen University of Minnesota Duluth

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Dr. Mary Christiansen is an Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth in the Civil Engineering Department. Her education includes a B.S. in Architectural Engineering (2008) and M.S. in Structural Engineering (2008) from the Milwaukee School of Engineering and a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering (2013) from Michigan Technological University. Her research focuses on the development and characterization of alternative cementitious materials and portland cement binders with the goal of improving the environmental sustainability of concrete. In particular, she investigates the relationship between the microstructural development and mechanical properties of alkali-activated geopolymer concrete made from waste glass, fly ash, slag and bauxite residue. She is also interested in sustainable design and construction and is a LEED Accredited Professional.

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Collaboration between the University, local electric utility and area businesses, originally aimed at giving senior level engineering students experience in real world problem solving within the area of sustainability has resulted in a successful model for community engagement. Sustainable Energy Systems, taught in the Mechanical Engineering (ME) Department, focuses on renewable energy technologies, such as photovoltaics, wind energy and solar thermal systems. Sustainable Design and Construction, taught in the Civil Engineering (CE) Department, considers the environmental, economic and societal impacts of sustainable materials, methods and technologies used in building construction. The semester-long projects involved pairing student groups from each class with a local business interested in incorporating sustainable technologies into their organization. Teams from the ME department focused primarily on feasibility studies for solar thermal, solar PV and other heat reclamation technologies. Teams from the CE department analyzed existing buildings for the potential of earning green construction and design certifications and made recommendations for the implementation of other energy and material saving technologies. Each project involved meetings with the owners, a site visit, energy assessment by the local electric utility and required the students to hone their professional communication skills. These projects represent a unique opportunity to provide a practical educational experience for students while advancing sustainability within the community. At the close of the semester, one company moved forward with their project, installing a solar thermal system. An update will be provided on the impact of these projects by presenting what companies have moved forward with the recommendations from the student teams.

Hoxie, A. B., & Christiansen, M. U. (2016, June), Project-based Sustainability Courses Provide Practical Educational Experience for Students while Advancing Sustainability within the Local Community Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25982

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