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The Impacts of Real Clients in Project-Based Service-Learning Courses

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Community Engagement Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Community Engagement Division

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1213.1 - 23.1213.19



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Paper Authors


Malinda S Zarske University of Colorado, Boulder

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Dr. 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, Faculty advisor for SWE, and on the development team for the TeachEngineering 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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Dana E Schnee University of Colorado, Boulder

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Dana Schnee is a Discovery Learning Apprentice at the University of Colorado's College of Engineering and Applied Science. She is currently a junior studying applied mathematics at CU with a focus in economics. Her research interest is in the area of service learning on the engineering undergraduate experience.

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Angela R Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

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Dr. Angela Bielefeldt is a professor and associate chair for Undergraduate Education in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering (CEAE) at the University of Colorado Boulder. She has also served as the ABET assessment coordinator for the CEAE Department since 2008. She has taught first-year introductory courses for CEAE students and capstone design for environmental engineering since students since 1998. The capstone design course first included service-learning projects in 2001. Bielefeldt currently conducts research on social responsibility among engineering students and practitioners, teaching sustainable engineering, engineering ethics, and faculty attitudes toward service-learning.

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Derek T Reamon University of Colorado, Boulder

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The Enduring Impacts of Real Clients in Project-Based Service-Learning CoursesClient-based service-learning is increasingly prevalent in engineering education and is shown toimprove valuable technical and professional skills when properly executed. True service-learningavoids partnering students and community clients to provide services that do not meet anauthentic need in order to achieve desired student learning outcomes. Using this definition, themutually beneficial and direct interaction between the students and the client to solve a realproblem is indispensable for a service-learning experience. Conversely, other research suggeststhat working with a client is an unnecessary hassle; it is possible to create similar gains in bothstudents’ skills and attitudes toward community service as long as the project is representative ofan actual community issue.This paper examines to what extent the above claims are true and the impacts of directcommunity interaction on students’ attitudes and skills. To accomplish this, we analyze anestablished first-year engineering design course at a Large Public University, which reaches 42%of the first year engineering undergraduate student population per year and involves multipletypes of projects over each semester. Building upon previous research at this university, wedistinguish more rigorously between projects that involve a community client who is availablefor meetings and direct interaction, a theoretical or geographically distant client who does notinteract directly with students, and projects that are not client-centered. We compare students’professional and technical skills when in engaged in client-based projects to theoretical andnonexistent client projects. We also examine the endurance of gains in students’ practical skillsover time (1-2 years after the course) to determine if the skills gain in the service-learning groupremains elevated, in response to research that suggests student attitudes toward their technicalskills decline between first-year and capstone design projects. Using multiple methods informedby current education research, including examination of student attitude surveys and focusgroups with students, we provide support for the value that client-based service-learning projectsadd to overall student experiences. Specifically this paper addresses, “Do projects involvingdirect interaction with a community client have a greater and more enduring impact on students’skills and attitudes when compared to service-themed projects and projects lacking communitycollaboration?”

Zarske, M. S., & Schnee, D. E., & Bielefeldt, A. R., & Reamon, D. T. (2013, June), The Impacts of Real Clients in Project-Based Service-Learning Courses Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22598

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2013 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015