From Beginning to End: How Engineering Students Think and Talk About Sustainability Across the Life Cycle

Deborah Kilgore, Andrew Jocuns, Ken Yasuhara, and Cynthia J. Atman
Center for Engineering Learning and Teaching
University of Washington, Box 352183, Seattle, WA 98195-2180, USA
E-mail: kilgored@u.washington.edu, jocunsa@u.washington.edu, yasuhara@u.washington.edu, atman@u.washington.edu

Abstract:
In this mixed-methods longitudinal study, 64 engineering students participated in a 15-minute lab- based engineering design task toward the end of their second and fourth years. Fifteen of those students also participated in open-ended interviews in their senior year, in which they were asked about their college experiences and conceptions of sustainable development. Analysis of these data reveal that while the students often talked about sustainable development in terms of limited resources and the life cycle of engineered products, relatively few considered the life cycle when actually engaged in engineering design. An in-depth examination of four students’ educational experiences, narratives about sustainable development, and performance on the engineering task suggested implications for engineering education. Making sustainable development explicit in engineering classrooms and facilitating the development of self-directed learning skills in engin- eering students should improve students’ abilities to develop knowledge about sustainable develop- ment and transfer such knowledge to new engineering contexts.

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