This full paper presents findings from a pilot project initiated in a multidisciplinary, team-based first-year engineering course. The course, focused on the design process and technical skill building (e.g., CAD, Excel, prototyping), is structured to support student teams as they pursue unique solutions to identified needs in a given hypothetical context. In spring 2018, an alternative project was offered in two of five course sections that partnered student teams with a school whose mission is to support those with developmental disabilities. Specifically, the project “client” was an occupational therapist at the school; her primary needs were tools designed to foster her students’ fine motor development by means of manipulative devices.
After having been facilitated for two semesters as an EPICS (Engineering Projects In Community Service) elective course, this project was incorporated into the first-year sequence to engage students with real, local societal problems earlier in their undergraduate studies. The project focuses on human-centered design, allowing students to be creative in their solutions while compelling them to remain cognizant of the specific needs of the intended users (in this case, primarily pre-K to 5th graders). Both individual responsibility and team interdependence have been noted as strengths of the project, key learning outcomes that are often lacking in team-based projects.
Both survey and interview data from the pilot project’s participants (12 students in total), along with comparative data from other first-year students in the course, will be collected. Analysis will include a mixed methods approach to highlight key project benefits and drawbacks, and will focus on answering the following research questions:
- How did the occupational therapy project impact students’ motivations?
- How has the occupational therapy project shaped the way students’ view the engineering profession?
This paper is intended to offer well-informed insights for those interested in running similar service-learning projects.
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