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Service-based First-year Engineering Projects: Do They Make a Difference?

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Lessons Learned through Community Engagement of Engineering Students

Tagged Division

Community Engagement Division

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.1157.1 - 25.1157.15



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Paper Authors


Malinda S. Zarske University of Colorado, Boulder

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Malinda S. Zarske is the Director of K-12 Engineering Education at the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. A former high school and middle school science and math teacher, she has advanced degrees in teaching secondary science from the Johns Hopkins University and in civil engineering from CU, Boulder. She is also a First-year Engineering Projects Instructor and on the development team for the digital library. Her primary research interests are on the impacts of project-based service-learning on student identity, recruitment, and retention in K-12 and undergraduate engineering.

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Derek T Reamon University of Colorado, Boulder


Angela R. Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

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Angela Bielefeldt, Ph.D., P.E., is an Associate Professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU) in the Department of Civil, Environmental, & Architectural Engineering. She has been at CU since 1996. During that time, she has taught Introduction to Civil Engineering to first-year students numerous times. She also teaches the senior capstone design course for environmental engineering, and this course has included service-learning projects for local or international communities since 2000. Bielefeldt has been researching teaching innovations and student learning for about ten years.

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Daniel W. Knight University of Colorado, Boulder

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Daniel W. Knight is the engineering assessment specialist at the Integrated Teaching and Learning (ITLL) program and the Broadening Opportunity through Leadership and Diversity (BOLD) Center in CU’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. He holds a B.A. in psychology from the Louisiana State University and a M.S. degree in industrial/organizational psychology and a Ph.D. degree in counseling psychology, both from the University of Tennessee. Knight’s research interests are in the areas of retention, program evaluation, and teamwork practices in engineering education. His current duties include assessment, evaluation, and research for the ITL Program’s and BOLD Center’s hands-on initiatives.

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Service-Based Engineering Projects: Do they make a difference to students of different genders or engineering majors?Service learning courses have been well-established in the social sciences, and are evolving inengineering colleges as a mechanism to elevate student professional skills and provideengineering students with meaningful learning experiences in a community-based context.However, the potential for learning through service is still not often integrated throughoutengineering education curricula.Practicing engineering in a community context, partnered with a strong emphasis on teamworkand reflection, project-based service-learning (PBSL) programs have been suggested as effectiveapproaches to recruit and retain more students, including women and minority students, into thepipeline of engineering education and the engineering workforce. Unfortunately, little researchhas been reported to confirm this hypothesis. In fact, what, if any, groups of students areimpacted by service-learning experiences?The University’s First Year Engineering Projects (FYEP) course has been evolving over the lastdecade into a successful avenue for increasing the knowledge, skills, and retention of its studentsin engineering. One goal of this paper is to examine the impact of a community-based context infirst-year courses. Specifically, we compared five sections of the FYEP course who engaged inservice-based projects with five sections of the course who engaged in non-service basedprojects, all during the same semester. Using multiple methods informed by current educationresearch, we analyzed how the context of service-based engineering impacts students’ technicaland professional skills, confidence, attitudes towards community service, and intent to completetheir incoming major. We also examined any differential impacts on students by gender andmajor. Lastly, we looked at retention into the next year of engineering courses for all the studentswho enrolled in FYEP during this semester. Specifically this paper addresses, “When comparedto conventional design experiences, do service-based design opportunities significantly impactfirst-year engineering undergraduate student skills, attitudes, and retention by gender ormajor?”

Zarske, M. S., & Reamon, D. T., & Bielefeldt, A. R., & Knight, D. W. (2012, June), Service-based First-year Engineering Projects: Do They Make a Difference? Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21914

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