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What Do Students Think About Service-learning in Required Engineering Courses?

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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

25.1473.1 - 25.1473.24



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Paper Authors

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John J. Duffy University of Massachusetts, Lowell

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Linda Barrington University of Massachusetts, Lowell


Emmanuelle Reynaud University of Massachusetts, Lowell

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Emmanuelle Reynaud is Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.

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Manuel A. Heredia University of Massachusetts, Lowell

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What do Students Think about Service-Learning in Required Engineering Courses?In the fall of 2004, a medium-sized university began integration of service-learning (S-L) projects into required engineering courses within fiveundergraduate academic programs. The goal was to have students exposed to S-Lin on average one course in each of eight semesters during their engineeringprogram with an overarching aim to graduate better engineers and more engagedcitizens. Previous studies have shown S-L to have a beneficial effect on studentsin cognitive and affective measures including critical thinking and tolerance fordiversity. In addition, literature suggests that S-L leads to better knowledge ofcourse subject matter, cooperative learning, recruitment of underrepresentedgroups in engineering, retention of students, and citizenship. Over the last sevenyears, an average of 30 engineering courses with 700 students total at thiseducational institution incorporated S-L to various degrees ranging from 5 to100% of course learning objectives and grades. On average then about two-thirdsof the students each semester have a required course in which S-L projects aremostly required but in some cases optional. Pre and post student surveys havebeen conducted annually, supplemented with surveys of faculty and communitypartners as well as interviews of students and faculty.What do students think about S-L in required engineering courses? Recruitment:Twenty to twenty-five percent of entering students indicate that S-L was one ofthe factors that influenced their coming to this particular university. In the mostrecent “pre” survey (n=450, Fall 2011), half of those who knew about the S-Lprogram indicated it was one of the factors for enrolling. Retention: Two-thirdsof the students consistently indicate a positive impact of S-L on their continuingin engineering. In the latest post survey of all levels of students (n= 428, Spring2011) in response to the statement that S-L increased the likelihood of theirdropping out of engineering 52% indicated “strongly disagree” (1 on a Likertscale of 1 to 9). Subject matter learning: Two-thirds agree in principle withcombining service and academic coursework. On average they agree that learningand interest in subject matter as well as professional skills are all improved withS-L. Students are evenly divided as to whether the S-L projects should bemandatory in courses. In virtually every other response to 32 questions in all, theaverage responses were significantly (5%) on the positive side of the effects of S-L and have been over the years. Gender: In the past several years, females haveresponded significantly more positively to 20 of the 32 survey questions thanmales, many times being one or two whole points higher on average on the 9point Likert scale. On more than one occasion a female has written that S-L is theonly thing that has kept her in engineering. Females in the college make up 18%of the graduating class, while they represent only about 10-12% of the enteringstudents, indicating a higher retention rate.A final observation: 75% of the students in the Spring 2011 survey indicatedagreement with the statement that service should be an expected part of theengineering profession (20% strongly agreed, 1 on the Likert scale; only 10%disagreed). If that premise is true, then service should be an expected part of theengineering curriculum, i.e., S-L embedded into required core courses.    

Duffy, J. J., & Barrington, L., & Reynaud, E., & Heredia, M. A. (2012, June), What Do Students Think About Service-learning in Required Engineering Courses? Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--22230

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