Engaging Students in Sustainability Education and Awareness of Green Engineering Design and Careers through a Pre-Engineering Program


A framework for an active learning summer program for middle school students is presented along with survey instruments and pre and post program data regarding student attitudes and awareness of sustainable design issues and career motivation in the field. This summer program was designed to attract students, especially from underrepresented groups, into early motivating experiences in the engineering fields and to increase their awareness of concepts and careers in renewable energy, and green engineering design principles and technologies. Twenty-four middle school students from a low social economic school district were provided the opportunity to experience many state-of-the-art engineering technologies at the university’s school of engineering and to learn from a diverse group of knowledgeable mentoring faculty. In the week long program, students were involved in hands-on engineering and renewable energy activities appropriate to their age and knowledge. Topics covered included: the engineering design process, CAD solid modeling, 3D printing and water jet cutting, hands-on assembly, renewable energy resources for homes, sustainable site selection, and water efficiency principles. Using projectbased learning, student teams participated as designers of their own green home models by integrating their learning of renewable energy use, conservation practices, and appropriate design and material selection. Pre and post surveys revealed increases in student awareness of general engineering and renewable energy concepts as well as increased interest in pursuing engineering careers. Introduction This study revolves around the topics of sustainability education as well as green design. It is therefore appropriate to first begin with definitions of each term. According to UNESCO, Education for Sustainable Development (sustainability education) involves the inclusion of “key sustainable development issues into teaching and learning such as climate change, disaster risk reduction, biodiversity, poverty reduction, and sustainable consumption.” Education about green design and building is defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency as “the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resourceefficient throughout a building’s life-cycle from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction.” 2 Therefore, sustainability education has to do with teaching about using less energy and fewer resources, recycling, about buying locally and organically, designing and building with environmentally mindful or “green” approaches. Further, it is about guiding students of all ages to what Smith calls “changes in attitudes, beliefs, and dispositions related to what may be necessary to forge more sustainable societies.” 3 Organizations such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have indicated the importance of environmental and sustainability education to overcome our global community’s alarming environmental problems. In a related movement in environmental education, in 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment proclaimed environmental education P ge 26608.2 as essential for citizens of all ages in order to provide a basis for both enlightenment and “responsible conduct by individuals, enterprises and communities in protecting and improving the environment in its full human dimension”. Research in K-12 sustainability education in engineering In the last few decades, there has been a renewed interest and value recognition of environmental and sustainable learning. Particularly relevant to this discussion is Pavlova’s call for policy formulation, teaching and learning for sustainability education and teacher training as three essential areas of challenge in the inclusion of sustainability education in technology. Education researchers find that K-12 sustainability education is not only about increasing content knowledge but that results are influenced by instructional practices that are dynamic and actionoriented and affect engagement not only in science courses but also in social sciences and even in art. 7, 8, 9 Church and Skelton report on a survey study involving more than one thousand K-12 teachers and report that over 66% have employed a particular kind of sustainability curriculum in which sustainability was used as an interdisciplinary unit, a context for teaching core subjects, or as a stand alone subject. In a related sub-study involving 55 high school teachers, Church and Skelton found that “almost all (96%) of the teachers reported that the lessons taught using the contextual framework of climate change increased their students’ critical thinking skills. Most (82%) saw increased engagement in the classroom with this context, and 79% said the units “increased students’ belief that they can make a difference on global issues”. 10 It is clear that the benefits of carrying out sustainable education are considerable and integrating it with other content areas can result in powerful learning. Green engineering design in sustainability education and in this study Green engineering design can be defined as a combination of engineering, science and technology practices with environmentally acceptable methods and principles. Some green engineering design focuses on designing around environmental changes and adopting these environmental changes. Sustainability education can be implemented along with green engineer design with very young students. As stated above, it is important to provide environmental awareness and learning opportunities to younger generations and have them actively involved with green engineering activities. Implementing environmental learning and green engineering together in early stages such as at the middle school level can be crucial for understanding the importance of environmental issues as well as the concepts and possibilities for environmentally friendly design. 13 This study aims to understand how an intervention program that is based on the integration of sustainability education and green engineering design can impact student learning and career awareness. A summer camp is described as the setting where students learn about potential negative technological impacts upon our environment and how to prevent some of them by applying important green engineering design principles. The culminating design activity encourages the students to utilize green engineering design principles directly 14 by creating a small house model that: • Is designed using system analysis and integrated environmental impact assessment tools. Students learned system design and implementation around environmental issues. • Uses materials that improve natural ecosystems while protecting human health and wellbeing. P ge 26608.3 • Uses materials that have a long lifecycle and less impact on environmental issues. • Uses materials and energy that are considered safe. • Uses reusable materials to minimize depletion of natural resources. • Uses a design methodology to minimize waste. • Uses a design based on local geography, aspirations and cultures. The garden and outside of the house is designed with consideration for local culture and matching local vegetation. • Uses sustainable technology such as solar panels, wind turbines and LEED certified building materials. • Is designed using a group of students not only to learn about green engineering and environmental issues, but also to actively engage and create their own solutions to some of these problems. Different water collection systems as well as roof designs were innovated by students. As described above, these middle school students learn green engineering design and new technologies using sustainability education to create a learning structure that will benefit not only them, but will also benefit future engineers and the environment. These activities and result from these activities will be presented in the next sections. Background The Ingram School of Engineering (ISOE) at Texas State University was founded in 2007. The undergraduate program offers three ABET accredited engineering degrees in electrical, industrial and manufacturing engineering. ISOE provides a strong educational experience via theory combined with practice in a class/lab atmosphere. Dedicated faculty and staff are directly involved in classes and labs, and each degree program culminates with a senior design or “Capstone” project, which is required for graduation. Capstone projects emphasize project management, technical deliverables, and multidisciplinary effort in team-oriented, long-term projects. As a result of the heavy emphasis on practical, applied, and experiential learning, students who graduate from ISOE are well prepared for careers in all aspects of engineering. The school has more than 800 engineering students. In addition to modern classrooms and computer labs, ISOE has fully equipped labs including a class 1000 Cleanroom, System Modeling and Renewable Technology (SMART) lab, the Center for High Performance Systems (CHiPS), Additive Manufacturing facilities, and Rapid Product Development (RPD) lab. The school of engineering keeps strong ties with the local community. One form of these ties is strong outreach program that is essential for the school and for Texas State University. Outreach programs are deployed in different forms from summer camps to on-campus high school recruitment events and school tours. The team of faculty involved in the green design summer camp presented in this paper has extensive experience designing successful Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)-related short and long-term camps for K-16 students. Examples are two National Science Foundation-funded Summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU); these ten-week long residential summer pro