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Service-Learning vs. Learning Service in First-year Engineering: If We Cannot Conduct First-Hand Service Projects, is it Still of Value?

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

FPD VI: Presenting "All the Best" of the First-Year Programs Division

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1286.1 - 22.1286.30

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Paper Authors


Susan F. Freeman Northeastern University

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Susan Freeman, Stanley Forman, Beverly Jaeger, and Richard Whalen are members of Northeastern University’s Gateway Team, a group of teaching faculty expressly devoted to the first-year Engineering Program at Northeastern University. The focus of this team is on providing a consistent, comprehensive, and constructive educational experience that endorses the student-centered and professionally-oriented mission of Northeastern University.

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Richard Whalen Northeastern University

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Beverly K. Jaeger Northeastern University

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Stanley M. Forman Northeastern University

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Service-Learning vs. Learning Service in Engineering DesignThe literature and 10 to 15 years of practice at many Universities have clearly demonstrated thatService-Learning provides benefits to both the community and the students’ learning withincreased levels of social responsibility [1,2,3,4]. In the College of Engineering at UnnamedUniversity the integration of service learning projects in a first-year Introduction to EngineeringDesign course has been considered for a number of years. But with 500+ first-year students, themanagement and administration of Service-Learning projects seemed daunting withoutsignificant resources provided to support the effort. The implementation by the first-yearGateway Faculty requires coordination and development of upwards of 160 projects that involvemany community partners providing a wide range of services. To assess the merits of such anundertaking, it was decided to first develop design projects with a theme of having a societalbenefit; topics with humanitarian and service focus, that impact the local community, or even aglobal impact. Do these projects affect the students’ in a way similar to Service-Learning? Afterworking on these service projects, do the students have a changed perspective on engineeringthat includes helping and serving others? To answer these questions a pre- and post- projectsurvey was given to all first-year engineering students to assess if their focus had been impactedas a result of working on and seeing presentations of engineering design in Service Projects.The dual-phase survey was entitled ‘Engineering in Society’, and was administered to more than500 first-year students in the Engineering Design Classes. The pre-survey was given early in thesemester before the design projects were started. The first part of the pre-survey assessed theirfamiliarity with current events locally and globally, and the sources of their information, alongwith basic demographics on selected majors in engineering. This was followed by a series ofquestions on their knowledge of human needs, organizations, and services. The bulk of thesurvey focused on identifying engineering roles such as: engineers produce products, engineershelp improve lives, design systems, work for non-profit organizations. The post survey wasgiven during the last week of classes after the completion of the design project and wasdeveloped to measure the student’s changes in perceptions of engineering. Responses andstatements that were evaluated can be seen in the following tables. Both pre and post surveyswill be in the included in the paper’s appendix, along with the list of design project topics.Table 1. Familiarity with the following Human services areas, 1 = not familiar, 5 = very familiar Human services Before After Statistically significant? Housing Aid 2.27 2.63 Yes p <.0001These results show that while there was some student awareness coming into the course, therewas a post-survey increase in knowledge of human services organizations and an increasedawareness that they might have a role in non-profit organizations. It appears that our studentshave a fairly balanced understanding that engineers produce products and serve others indifferent ways. Anecdotally from years past, if not guided, students would select design projectsto create products that helped them as individuals or were familiar to their activities and lives,rarely choosing to focus on a societal need. Some of the results from the last series of questionsfrom the post-survey were quite compelling as shown in Table 3: their perspective and attitudetoward future engineering work has changed due to their initial engineering design projects.Table 3. Likert responses on the class effect on humanitarian awareness. Disagree = 1 Agree = 5Statement MeanThis class caused me to feel more concerned about social problems. 3.28I now have a stronger sense of civic responsibility to become involved in my 3.19community because of this class project.This class has helped me to gain a clearer idea of my professional goals. 3.80It is likely I will volunteer on a non-profit project in the future because of this class. 3.19It is notable that the means are above neutral, showing a tendency toward change. This iscertainly a positive result, given that the students are not actually working with a service project,and still have a stronger sense of civic responsibility and are considering volunteering.Furthermore, the experiences in Engineering Design class seemed to provide students moreclarity on professional goals, which as an overall result is propitious for first-year classes. In thisfirst semester at Unnamed University, 40% of the students are often undecided on a major, sosome increase in understanding their goals is a desired outcome. Overall, these results areencouraging; the use of humanitarian and service oriented projects increases the perceivedbreadth of engineering application areas, and students’ knowledge of socially responsibleopportunities as well as their potential roles as engineers. The purpose of this paper andpresentation is to describe in detail the survey, salient results of the study plus information usefulfor implementation of the projects used in the course.ReferencesAstin, A., Vogelgesang, L., Ikeda, E., & Yee, J. (2000). How service learning affects students.UCLA. LA: Higher Education Research Institute.Duffy, J., Barrington, L., & Heredia, M. (2009). Recruitment, Retention, and Service-Learning inEngineering. Proceedings of the American Society of Engineering Education Annual Meeting .ASEE.Huyck, M., Bryant, K., & Ferguson, D. (2009). The impact of reflections in service learning andother undergraduate team projects on learning. Proceedings ASEE Annual Conference (pp. AC2009-1032). Austin, TX: American Society of Engineering Education.Tsang, E. (2000). Design that matters: Service-learning in engineering. Washington, DC:American Association of Higher Education.

Freeman, S. F., & Whalen, R., & Jaeger, B. K., & Forman, S. M. (2011, June), Service-Learning vs. Learning Service in First-year Engineering: If We Cannot Conduct First-Hand Service Projects, is it Still of Value? Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC.

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