Wave of the Future:
Service Learning in Engineering
By Barton Reppert
IEEE President-Elect Leah Jamieson sees a "huge opportunity" for the IEEE and other
engineering professional organizations to contribute more toward the
wider development of "service learning" programs at college and
university engineering schools.
According to Jamieson, service learning is defined
as "a method of teaching, learning and reflecting that ties
community service with academic learning outcomes in the discipline,
and is built upon the principle of reciprocity."
Jamieson, interim dean of the College of Engineering at
Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., was lead-off speaker at a
National Conference on Service Learning in Engineering. The National
Science Foundation (NSF) sponsored the conference, held 24-25
May at the National Academy of Engineering in Washington, D.C.
"I would say that one of the most significant things
was that this was the first time that people from the many different
communities of engineering service learning came together," Jamieson
said, in a telephone interview following the conference. "Twenty or even five years ago, you really couldn't have
imagined any meaningful gathering of engineers who were involved with
service learning, because there simply were fewer programs, and fewer
people making connections between those various communities."
At Purdue, Jamieson co-founded Engineering Projects
in Community Service (EPICS). Established in fall 1995, the program has since served as a model for comparable
EPICS programs at 14 other institutions, including Iowa State
University, University of Notre Dame, Butler University, University
of Wisconsin-Madison, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of
California-Merced, University of California-San Diego, Columbia
University, Pennsylvania State University, Case Western Reserve
University, San Jose State University, University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and the
University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez.
In February 2005, the National Academy of
honored the Purdue EPICS program with the prestigious Bernard M.
Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education.
Another speaker at the conference last month, Martin
C. Jischke, president of Purdue University, told the gathering that
"I'm one of those who believes that
EPICS is a program whose full impact on the lives of our students —
and not just at Purdue — will be quite substantial. It
will be profound in that these students whose careers are going to
be affected are going to have a big impact long after they leave the
Sue Kemnitzer, deputy director for engineering
education and centers at the National Science Foundation, said the
NSF funds EPICS and similar service learning programs through its
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics
Talent Expansion Program, budgeted at about $25 million for the
current fiscal year. "We're very open to people suggesting service
learning as a technique to use to attract and retain students," she
Asked about particularly worthwhile and significant
projects in service learning that have electrical
engineering students have pursued, Kemnitzer said: "Oftentimes it's a situation
where you are combining mechanical and electrical systems to get
some beneficial result. In the environmental area, there
are several projects I can think of that involve deploying sensors
and then getting signals back."
Kemnitzer said that while some
major, high-tech companies, such as Microsoft, National Instruments
and Hewlett-Packard have supported engineering service learning
programs by donating equipment and/or software, she would like to see the IEEE and other engineering associations
have greater involvement.
"It would be very productive to get more regular
members of professional societies involved, for a couple of
reasons," she said. "One, they probably want to do some volunteer
work using their expertise. Second, the student teams often need
the advice and mentoring of professional engineers who really know
IEEE President-Elect Jamieson said she estimates that at least 100
colleges and universities have some type of service learning in
engineering — including campuses where chapters of Engineers
Without Borders and Engineers for a Sustainable World are active.
The United Engineering Foundation, of which the IEEE
is one of five founder societies, contributed
$25,000 to Engineers Without Borders-USA's tsunami relief efforts
in February 2005, to aid efforts to rebuild village schools and other
infrastructure in Sri Lanka decimated by the December 2004 Indian Ocean
Asked whether the IEEE has been doing enough to
encourage and support service learning programs, Jamieson responded:
"This is not an area where the IEEE has been [very] active. I think
it's a huge opportunity for the IEEE and for other professional
organizations. Among the professional societies, civil engineering
has been the most active."
Jamieson, who takes office in
January 2007, added: "I think there are discussions going on in the IEEE about how
to connect the IEEE's fields of interest, and the
impact it has in the world, including the potential impact in
community service and addressing global challenges. I think that's a
topic that we're going to hear more about."
She said other worthwhile projects
engineering students have pursued as part of service learning programs have
included developing data management systems for social service
agencies, such as Habitat for Humanity.
Looking ahead to her IEEE leadership duties,
Jamieson said she has been giving serious thought to questions such
as: "What are careers going to look like in five to 20 years from
now? How are people going to be prepared for those careers? How
do most engineering faculty, students and professional societies
reflect how global engineering is becoming? How do you break down
barriers between IEEE groups, and how do you break down barriers
between university departments? How do you identify emerging
technologies, and what do you do to foster them?
Barton Reppert is a freelance science and
technology writer specializing in S&T policy coverage. He previously
worked for 18 years as a reporter and editor with The Associated
Press in Washington, New York, and Moscow. He can be reached at
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