Bringing a cross-disciplinary, contextual approach to international service engineering learning

Keilin Jahnke, Ann Perry Witmer, Matthew Tan, Grace Frances Witmer

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

Abstract

Courses in international engineering design for communities-in-need typically focus on creating, implementing, and optimizing innovative technologies that can be universally applied to the developing world. Many of the technological design assumptions are based upon the provider's values and cultural experience, and often disregard the conditions and context of the recipient community. This mindset is exacerbated by the characteristic isolation that engineering education maintains with regard to non-technical disciplines such as anthropology, community health, and social development. A year-long course at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, currently in is third year and working with its third community, breaks the isolationism of engineering thinking by combining undergraduate and graduate students in an interdisciplinary course with students in various departments to design and consult with a rural Honduran community in need of a safe drinking water supply. During the course students work closely with the community, a Honduran non-government organization, and professional advisors from various disciplines including civil engineering, water system operations, technical communications, and political governance. The course focuses on wrestling with the challenges of defining a need, evaluating alternative solutions, and devising a plan for system construction, operation, and financing. Results of the first two efforts are discussed from the perspectives of the student participants, the community recipient, the NGO, and professional partners. Feedback from course participants indicates that engineering students gain insights into the benefits of holistic engineering for domestic and international clients. Alumni of the course who continue participating as mentors report that they feel better qualified to undertake their professional responsibilities because of their course experience in defining a problem, working with a multi-disciplinary team to seek an appropriate and sustainable solution, and developing the cultural awareness to view the challenge from the perspective of the target user rather than from their own viewpoint.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StatePublished - Jun 26 2016
Event123rd ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - New Orleans, United States
Duration: Jun 26 2016Jun 29 2016

Other

Other123rd ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition
CountryUnited States
CityNew Orleans
Period6/26/166/29/16

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)

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  • Cite this

    Jahnke, K., Witmer, A. P., Tan, M., & Witmer, G. F. (2016). Bringing a cross-disciplinary, contextual approach to international service engineering learning. Paper presented at 123rd ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, New Orleans, United States.