Document Type


Publication Date

June 2011

Publication Title

Proceedings of the 2011 American Society for Engineering Education 552

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Engineering Education | Service Learning


One of the most significant challenges facing this coming generation of engineers is how to fight the complex issue of climate change. One aspect of this that is playing an increasingly important role is alternative and renewable energy technologies. Emerging applications such as solar cells, wind energy conversion devices, and fuel cells involve significant contributions across a range of traditional engineering disciplines. Therefore, for companies to be successful in researching, designing, and manufacturing these products, they must operate in a truly multi-disciplinary environment. To prepare graduates to be successful in this, engineering education must provide students with multi-disciplinary learning environments. We offer a general engineering course on Renewable Energy Engineering. The course is open to juniors, seniors, and graduate students of all engineering majors and is part of the College of Engineering’s multi-disciplinary minor in Green Engineering. The course has been offered three times to date and typically has representatives from every engineering major on campus. The class covers a range of renewable energy topics including: how traditional energy is produced, measured, and sold; solar thermal; photovoltaics; wind; hydropower; fuel cells; biofuels; geothermal; and ocean, wave, and tidal energy. In all of the topics, the classes cover enough of the engineering fundamentals to do mini-design projects in each technology. The classroom periods use an active learning methodology. The classes are structured such that the students work together in multi-disciplinary teams where each student is able to bring the expertise of their major to understanding the technology. For example, the background of mechanical engineers combined with electrical engineers will allow a team to begin to grasp the basic fundamentals of fluid flow and power generation needed to understand how a hydropower plant operates. Details of the class structure, active learning assignments, design projects, and teamwork structure will be presented. A significant assignment in the class is a multi-disciplinary, team based service learning project. Each team is assigned a renewable energy technology (such as wind power) at the start of the semester. They have a series of assignments designed to give them technical depth in the area and confidence as an “expert” in the technology. They then design a hands-on teaching demonstration for the technology. They bring this to an after school program for 4th- 7th graders at a nearby community center. The community center is part of a unique University/ city/community partnership (CommUniverCity). The service learning project is facilitated by the University’s Center for Community Learning and Leadership. These will be discussed in more detail in the paper. Details of the service learning project as well as assessment of the service learning experience on student perception of their confidence as engineers, their confidence to make a difference in society, the broad view of the role of engineers in society, and the role of multi-disciplinary teams in engineering will be presented.


© 2011 American Society for Engineering Education. This article originally appeared in the proceedings of the 2011 ASEE Annual Conference, and can also be found online at this link.
Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC.