What works? Sustainability grand challenges in engineering curricula via experiential learning

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Landis, Amy E.
Dancz, Claire L. A.
Parrish, Kristen
Bilec, Melissa M.
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University College Cork
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Today’s complex global problems necessitate engineering solutions that not only consider sustainability, but include elements of design and creativity. Unfortunately, many engineering programs do not train students to think in terms of multiple contexts and at various scales. We often constrain students’ creativity to think within the narrow parameters of their specialization. Engineering educators face a difficult task of training students with both technical competencies and sustainability consciousness to tackle 21st century challenges. If we are to positively contribute to society, then we need to fundamentally change the way scientists, social scientists, and engineers are educated (Bielefeldt 2013). Two successful models for implementing sustainability grand challenges into engineering curricula have emerged in practice and in literature: stand-alone courses versus modules that are integrated into many courses. Engineering programs implement the stand-alone course-based model by establishing one to two distinct courses designed to address sustainability grand challenges and design in depth. One example of this is senior design. Conversely, engineering programs implement the modular-based model by integrating sustainability grand challenges and design throughout a host of existing courses and weave student exposure throughout the curriculum. These modules can be via ready-made modules, but more often than not faculty develop their own modules. The goal of this research was to evaluate the two models for implementing sustainability and to provide succinct recommendations and lessons learned for engineering programs tasked with integrating sustainability into their curricula. We review the implementation results of three sustainability courses, fourteen sustainability-themed modules, and senior design. We track progress towards responding to ABET Program Criterion related to sustainability and Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge 2nd edition (BOK2) Outcome 10: Sustainability. Results compare outcomes of students’ senior design project from universities implementing the two different approaches. And finally, we present the results of a formative and summative surveys of hundreds of students who participated in classes implemented throughout the project as well as faculty perceptions and barriers to implementation.
Engineering education , Sustainability , Experiential learning , Experiential learning
Landis, A. E., Dancz, C. L. A., Parrish, K. and Bilec, M. M. (2021) ‘What works? Sustainability grand challenges in engineering curricula via experiential learning’, EESD2021: Proceedings of the 10th Engineering Education for Sustainable Development Conference, 'Building Flourishing Communities', University College Cork, Ireland, 14-16 June.