Incorporating a Systems Approach into Civil and Environmental Engineering Curricula: Effect on Course Redesign, and Student and Faculty Attitudes


This paper presents a brief overview of the changes made during our department level reform(DLR) process (Grant Title: A Systems Approach for Civil and Environmental Engineering Education: Integrating Systems Thinking, Inquiry-Based Learning and Catamount Community Service-Learning Projects) and some of the effects of these changes on our students and ourselves. The overall goal of the reform has been to have students learn and apply a systems approach to engineering problem solving such that when they become practicing engineers they will develop more sustainable engineering solutions. We have integrated systems thinking into our programs in the following ways; 1) new material has been included in key courses (e.g., the fist-year introductory and senior design courses), 2) a sequence of three related environmental and transportation systems courses have been included within the curricula (i.e., Introduction to Systems, Decision Making, and Modeling), and 3) service-learning (SL) projects have been integrated into key required courses as a way of practicing a systems approach. A variety of assessment methods were implemented as part of the reform including student surveys, student focus groups, faculty interviews, and assessment of student work. Student work in fie classes demonstrate that students are learning the systems approach, applying it to engineering problem solving, and that this approach helps meet ABET outcomes. Initial student resistance to changing the curriculum has decreased post implementation (e.g., graduating class 2010), and many students are able to define and apply the concept of sustainability in senior design project. Student self-assessments show support of SL projects and that the program is influencing student understanding of the roles and responsibilities of engineers in society.


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