Diverse models for incorporating service projects into engineering capstone design courses

TitleDiverse models for incorporating service projects into engineering capstone design courses
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsBielefeldt, AR, Dewoolkar, MM, Caves, KM, Berdanier, BW, Paterson, KG
JournalInternational Journal of Engineering Education

There are a variety of ways in which service projects have been incorporated into senior engineering capstone design courses. Some
of these experiences fulfill the rigorous definition of service-learning (SL) and others meet some but not all of the true SL
requirements. Many students and faculty find service projects particularly motivating, and educational theory indicates that
motivation is a crucial ingredient for higher-order learning. Different course models from civil, environmental, and biomedical
engineering, ranging from a single semester to a full calendar year, are compared and contrasted. Most of these courses and/or
service projects are optional capstone projects for students, but in other cases all students are required to complete service projects
for the capstone design course. Reflection exercises are an important component of SL projects, and a variety of structured and
semi-structured reflection exercises have been incorporated into these capstone design courses. Data indicate that service projects
are effective at teaching students both a depth and breadth of technical and non-technical skills. SL projects may be particularly
superior for increasing students’ understanding of sustainability, cultural competency, and sense of civic responsibility. It is
particularly difficult to balance educational outcomes for the students with benefits for the community/client partners in single
semester courses. Projects for local communities or individuals seem to yield the most tangible results for partners in a one-semester
time span, while international projects with a development focus offer an array of logistical and cultural challenges. The instructors
must devote time and attention to developing relationships with partners in advance of the course and follow-up to help ensure
optimal outcomes for the partners. The lessons learned from these courses may help others effectively incorporate service projects
into their own capstone design courses.

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