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Service Learning In Engineering: What, Why, And How?

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



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Page Numbers

5.543.1 - 5.543.9



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John Duffy

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Edmund Tsang

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Susan M. Lord

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

Session 3630

Service-Learning in Engineering: What, Why, and How?

John Duffy, Edmund Tsang, and Susan Lord Mechanical Engineering Department, University of Massachusetts Lowell/ Mechanical Engineering Department, University of South Alabama/ Engineering Department, University of San Diego


Service-learning is an emerging pedagogy, recently adopted in many academic disciplines and institutions. Campus Compact (a national group of about 620 colleges and universities) estimates over 11,000 courses have incorporated service-learning nationwide. Service-learning involves the joining of both academic coursework and community service with key features including reciprocity, reflection, and community-expressed needs. Previous studies have shown positive effects of service-learning on a wide variety of cognitive and affective measures, many of which match the criteria of ABET (for example, those dealing with interdisciplinary teams, ethical responsibility, impact of engineering in a global and societal context, and effective communication). Examples of service-learning in engineering range from first-year design courses coupled with local schools at University of South Alabama and at University of San Diego to senior and graduate courses at University of Massachusetts Lowell coupled with a local Habitat for Humanity chapter and medical clinics in Peru. The challenge in implementation is maintaining subject matter content in courses while meeting real community needs. A survey was distributed to engineering colleges throughout the US to discover how widespread service- learning and community-based projects are in engineering.


In our collective experience, the mention of the term “service-learning” to engineering educators generally evokes one of three typical responses. The most common response is: "What is service-learning anyway?" The next most typical is exemplified by the remark: "We do that already." The third is typified by: "We have no room in our curriculum to add anything more given all that ABET requires." The aim of this paper is to address these responses.

In this paper, we will explain what the essential elements of service-learning are and review briefly the literature on positive cognitive and affective benefits. Even though many of us in engineering education may have course projects that provide community service and may therefore think we are already engaged in service-learning, we may not be including all the aspects of service-learning found to gain maximum benefit for our students, ourselves, and the community. And in response to the objection that there is no room and time for one more topic to be added to the curriculum, we make a case that incorporation of service-learning may in fact reduce the overall load of students and faculty in achieving ABET goals. Finally, we present a few examples of how to incorporate service-learning into a variety of engineering courses.

Duffy, J., & Tsang, E., & Lord, S. M. (2000, June), Service Learning In Engineering: What, Why, And How? Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri. 10.18260/1-2--8694

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