Deepening Engineering Skills through Community Engaged Learning in a Sustainable Energy Systems Course

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Paper presented at 127th American Society of Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition, Montreal, Canada, June 21-24, 2020.


A community engaged learning experience, bridging courses in engineering and education, was established to support the needs of our local school district. The recent adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards in Rhode Island introduced the requirement to include engineering content in the public elementary schools. The school district identified the fourth grade for the pilot year program. Wind energy was selected as a topic area for introducing the engineering design process due to our engineering students’ growing expertise in that area as well as its relevance to Rhode Island. Interdisciplinary teams of engineering and education majors collaborated to develop and teach five lessons across eleven fourth grade classrooms, reaching more than 230 fourth grade students. The project culminated with a day-long celebration on our university’s campus in which fourth graders tested their model-scale wind turbines in a wind tunnel and completed various engineering design activities. This work focuses on the outcomes of the engineering students (primarily juniors and seniors specializing in mechanical and/or electrical engineering). In particular, the efficacy of this community engagement project as a pedagogical tool for meeting ABET outcomes is examined through survey results and team reflection papers. The impacts on the education majors, fourth grade students/teachers, and university faculty are outside the scope of this paper, though these outcomes are equally important and will be assessed in another study. Qualitative and quantitative results demonstrate overall success of this project upon completion of its pilot year and provide insights for future improvements to the program. Engineering students reported growth in communication, teamwork, and time management, among other skills. The continuation of this community engagement project will provide opportunities for improvement, particularly in the methodology and frequency of student reflection.