Engineering Community Engagement

By John Hamerlinck

Minnesota Campus Compact presented a two-day institute: Service-Learning in Engineering and Mathematics. Attendees were eligible to apply for 3M-funded grants to implement community-focused projects into the curriculum. The Engineering department at Century College received one of these grants.

Faculty member Tim Grebner’s first-year engineering students learned engineering planning processes by designing prototypes related to challenges proposed by two community partners. Teams of students worked on challenges posed by two community partners.

  • The nonprofit, FamilyMeans asked students to develop key adapters so that people suffering from arthritis could better leverage their limited wrist or finger mobility to unlock doors or start cars with their existing keys.
  • The Solar Oven Society exists to promote solar cooking to the over 2 billion people worldwide who lack adequate fuel for cooking their food. Their challenge was to design units that would keep food warm (180º for up to four hours) for holding or transport, thus making ovens available to cook greater volumes of food.

Student teams presented their designs in the classroom with community partners present. Grebner said that in the past he had simply made up the design challenges for this course. That worked well, but that incorporating service learning seems to have added another degree of motivation for these young students. The presentations were well-received by the community partners. Many of the designs seemed workable and quite affordable. Students also demonstrated increased knowledge about topics (arthritis, deforestation) that might not otherwise be covered in an engineering class. Following the presentation, one student remarked that he genuinely appreciated the idea that they had been working on something that might be of use to real people in the community.

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