Tag Archives: engineering


Happy New Year!  Did you make resolutions?  (If so, have you broken any of them yet?)  Motivation is widely recognized as a key factor in successful follow through—and, not surprisingly, in learning too.

Teenagers’ interest in pursuing engineering, for instance, increases dramatically when they hear about the ways it might benefit them and the world.  A recent survey by Intel and Change the Equation found:

  • 63 percent of teens have never considered a career in engineering.
  • 61 percent of teens are more likely to consider engineering after learning that engineering majors make an average annual income of $75,000; more than 50 percent are persuaded by the fact that the unemployment rate among engineers is more than 4 percentage points lower than the national rate.
  • The societal benefits of what engineers do, like preventing disasters or generating cleaner electricity, are particularly resonant with teens that have never considered engineering before.  Learning about engineering feats such as saving the Chilean miners who were trapped for 69 days motivates 52 percent to think twice about the career.

“The students who are not interested in engineering are most likely to use the word ‘difficult’ to describe engineering,” commented Chronicle of Higher Education blogger Robert Talbert, but “students are willing to take on difficult tasks as long as they know there will be some payoff—for themselves or for the world, or both—at the end of it.”  (And really, are those of us done with school any different?)

With big goals, we’re better off breaking them down and recognizing shorter-term accomplishments and payoffs.  Students studying to be engineers—or anything else—can address public problems long before they’re full-time professionals, and doing so will help the classroom content seem relevant and the students feel successful.  Among the strategies for motivating students to learn, recommended by the authors of How Learning Works:  7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching:  assigning students “authentic, real-world tasks,” including service-learning projects.

Most people in this network don’t need to be reminded of the power of engaged learning, glad as we might be to see it noted in this kind of book.  Yet we can always use more examples of effective practice, more clarity on our common goals, more evidence of positive change.

– Julie Plaut

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.