In this GIFTS paper, the author discusses the ongoing experience of working with a local retirement community and the advantages and challenges of doing so. In addition to the author’s perspective as an engineering instructor, there is also discussion from the perspective of the retirement community staff because a mutually beneficial partnership is necessary to sustain the projects from year to year.
From the instructor’s perspective, the original driving factor in choosing to work with the local retirement community was to get real clients for the design projects to provide greater authenticity for the students. Engineering design starts with understanding the problem and coupling design teams with individual residents at the local retirement community ensures that students need to work to understand client needs that are very different from their own. In general, the residents have had some physical or mental limitation that prompted the problem statement in the first place. Not all problems were appropriate in scope or complexity, but coordination between instructors and staff always has resulted in at least three viable problem statements for each year.
Overall the experience has been positive for both the educator and retirement community staff involved, though it has not been entirely without challenges. In the paper, the author discusses how the project framework has evolved over the years, what makes for good project from an instructional point of view, what makes a good project from the residents and staff’s point of view and showcases some examples of good projects from each perspective. The results are tied together with a call for others to reach out and engage in this service learning opportunity, particularly those at smaller institutions where industry sponsored projects are not always a viable option.
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