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What Makes A Successful Service Learning Project For Freshman Engineers

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Service Learning Courses

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1606.1 - 12.1606.9



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Paper Authors

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Laura Lund University of Pittsburgh

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Dan Budny University of Pittsburgh

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

What makes a successful Service Learning Project for Freshman Engineers Abstract

Service learning can be a valuable educational tool for freshman engineers which helps to develop their sense of value and direction, teaches team dynamics and professional communication skills, and engages the students in the community surrounding their university. A fundamental challenge in developing a successful and rewarding experience for each student is the identification of appropriate community partners and projects. As freshmen engineers, the skill set of the students is limited; however the tendency is to select projects which are clearly marked as engineering-related, often resulting in an unattainable goal, unhappy community partners and discouraged students. .To prevent this end result, the focus of the experience should not be on the specifics of the project but rather the process and skills required to solve a problem which meets the needs of and satisfies the community partner. In this paper, we will discuss our experiences in project selection for a service learning course offered to second semester freshman engineering students at the University of Pittsburgh. The focus of the paper will be on the challenges in developing and maintaining community partner relationships, our experiences in identifying projects for the course, and examples of projects which resulted in both positive and negative experiences for either the students or the community partners.


A primary goal in offering a service learning class to freshman engineers is to improve retention by providing an experience which is both fulfilling and enlightening. Many freshman engineering students are overwhelmed by the workload of the first year engineering curriculum, and are not stimulated by the course material. The majority of freshmen students lack the maturity or experience to understand how the engineering curriculum will be of value to them in the future. They have not yet been exposed to the variety of opportunities that will be available to them with an engineering degree, nor do they have an understanding of the skills and knowledge they will need to ultimately be effective and of value in the professional work environment. With such an imposing challenge facing them as an engineering student and little understanding of how and where it will take them, many students lack the confidence in themselves to succeed, and thus decide to choose a major other than engineering.

Pilot Projects

For the spring semester of 2006 at the University of Pittsburgh, a pilot course was offered by the School of Engineering to freshman honors engineering students titled Engineering Applications for Society. The goal of the course was to provide the students with a service learning experience in engineering.

For the pilot program, six projects were undertaken with three community organizations. The three community partners for whom the projects were performed during the pilot course were The Center for Creative Play, a non-profit play center for both children with and without

Lund, L., & Budny, D. (2007, June), What Makes A Successful Service Learning Project For Freshman Engineers Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2877

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