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Student Perceptions of Sustainability and Engineering Mechanics in Undergraduate Civil and Environmental Engineering Education at Virginia Tech

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Mechanics, Music, Meaning, and Mohr

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

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Paper Authors


Craig M. Shillaber Northeastern University

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Craig M. Shillaber is an assistant teaching professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northeastern University. He earned a Ph.D. in civil engineering from Virginia Tech in 2016, an M.S. in civil engineering from Virginia Tech in 2009, and a B.S. in civil engineering from the University of New Hampshire in 2008. His research interests include sustainability education in civil engineering, geotechnical subsurface characterization, developing and improving methods for assessing life-cycle embodied energy and carbon emissions for the geotechnical profession, and sustainable geotechnics. Dr. Shillaber is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the Deep Foundations Institute (DFI), where he has served on the Sustainability Committee since 2013.

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Joseph E Dove P.E. Virginia Tech

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Dr. Joseph Dove is an Associate Professor of Practice in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech. For the last 20 years he has had the honor of working with outstanding young professionals through teaching and research in the field of geotechnical engineering. Prior to that he spent almost 10 years in industry and government practice.

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James K. Mitchell Virginia Tech

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Cristopher D. Moen


Victoria A Mouras P.E. Virginia Tech

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Associate Professor of Practice, P.E.
Via Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

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Engineering curricula across the U.S. have been undergoing changes in order to effectively train engineers to address sustainability concerns. An important aspect of implementing curricular change is having useful tools to evaluate their impact. In this study, a survey was used to measure student perceptions of engineering mechanics and sustainability in the Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech. The primary goals of the study were to: 1) evaluate the effectiveness of education in sustainability topics from the perspective of students by comparing survey responses between sustainability and engineering mechanics subject areas, 2) evaluate general student interest in various sustainability related topics in order to identify which topics students may be most interested in learning about in civil and environmental engineering curricula, and 3) determine what students believe is the primary source of their sustainability knowledge. The survey was administered to students enrolled in required introductory and senior level courses within the department. The data consisted of 320 useful responses that were analyzed using nonparametric and parametric statistical test methods. The results revealed that while students are interested in sustainability and believe it is important to engineering, their confidence ratings indicate that knowledge of sustainability considerations lags behind knowledge of traditional engineering mechanics. Confidence ratings also indicate that student knowledge of engineering mechanics increases steadily with academic standing; however, knowledge of sustainability remains unchanged until the senior year. In addition, the survey results indicate that students may value the environment over economy or society. Sustainability topics in which students are most interested are those most closely related to civil engineering, such as sustainable infrastructure, green buildings, sustainable cities and sustainable transportation. Overall, the response suggests that while sustainability is being incorporated into the curriculum, additional improvements are needed to reduce the gap between students’ confidence ratings for engineering mechanics and sustainability skills. Improvements could include increased coverage in the sophomore and junior years and additional emphasis on economic and societal impacts. The survey, analysis methods and results presented could be used by other civil engineering departments to stimulate discussion of potential curricular changes.

Shillaber, C. M., & Dove, J. E., & Mitchell, J. K., & Moen, C. D., & Mouras, V. A. (2017, June), Student Perceptions of Sustainability and Engineering Mechanics in Undergraduate Civil and Environmental Engineering Education at Virginia Tech Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28866

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