This complete evidence-based practice paper analyzes the effectiveness of a newly implemented design project module in a second semester introduction to engineering course at a community college. Engineering, library, and biological science faculty have collaborated with college facilities managers to develop and implement the project each semester since Fall 2014.
This design project introduces freshman engineering students to the National Academy of Engineer’s (NAE) Grand Challenges for Engineering providing students opportunities to discover and explore the myriad of ways engineering serves to improve society. Engineering programs typically see student retention rates of only 60% after the first year, and the percentage of women in undergraduate engineering programs has remained at or below 20% for decades (with the exception of bioengineering, estimated from enrollment and degrees award from NSF NCES 2012 data). Further research indicates that women in engineering programs value social context in their program of study. To this end, the design project discussed in this paper integrates humanitarian application experiences using the NAE Grand Challenges as well as campus-specific projects. It is hypothesized that implementation of this module will increase students’ perspective of engineering as a socially meaningful career option.
The projects are carried out over a 6-week period at the end of the semester. The projects are done in teams of 3 to 4 students, and each team is provided with a unique project. The module begins by looking at the Grand Challenges at a large scale. Students perform critical research on the history of their Challenge, including why it is important to society. Teams prepare and deliver a 10-minute overview presentation explaining their Challenge. Each presentation concludes with a brief explanation of their team’s unique research and design project. The projects range from campus parking lot and storm water management re-designs to the development of a proposal to the Gates Foundation requesting funding to address water and sanitation needs for a slum in India.
This paper describes the design project module and its effectiveness to date. Effectiveness was evaluated through the use of institutional student learning outcome assessment rubrics and institutional research data on students’ successful completion of the course, retention and persistence.
Preliminary analyses of two years of data show positive results. For example, successful completion of the course among female students was 100% in the participating classes as compared to 82% in classes at the same institution taught with traditional curriculum and 86% for classes taught within the community college system overall. Furthermore, assessment of student project deliverables indicates achievement of learning outcomes in literacy – defined as the ability to critically assess, comprehend, interact with, and use printed electronic, oral and artistic materials. Evaluation is ongoing to assess critical thinking and communication learning outcomes achievement as well as additional retention and persistence metrics. These will be reported and explored in the paper.
Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper?
Visit the ASEE document repository at
for more tools and easy citations.